I hate technology: a plea for help

I really don’t know an awful lot about computers and stuff.

Yes, I have built my own website, I write a blog, keep a Flickr account, and come out in a mild panic when I don’t know where my laptop, iPod, digital camera and mobile phone are.

But I’m not that much of a techie. I know a bit of HTML, but still don’t know what HTML actually stands for. I don’t know any programming languages. I wouldn’t have a clue what to do if I unscrewed my laptop and looked at the scary, flashing bits inside. I don’t really understand LAN, WAP, ISP, ISBN, PAYE, BYOB and all the other technological acronyms you seem to come across so often.

Sure, I know that “wireless” no longer means the thing you sit knitting next to while waiting for news from Dunkirk, but I do still think that Java is an island in Indonesia.

I use technology a lot, I admit, but I genuinely don’t understand it. Rather like God – I’m all in favour, and I’ll do what I can to make the most of it and sing its praises, but it still mystifies me sometimes.

Just a couple of months back, for example, when the wireless internet in my previous flat broke, I had to cry plaintatively down the phone to a friend in Edinburgh and bribe him with a train fare and dinner to get him to come through and help me identify the problem.

And recently, I have been angsting about two major problems. Maybe you can help.

The first is wireless internet. In my new flat, it’s all set up and ready to rumble, and my flatmate can use it fine, but I can only access it on my laptop if I am sitting just a couple of feet away from the router, which is in my flatmate’s room (the router is the antenna-like thing that plugs into your phone line, wirelessly and invisibly projecting your internet connection like a magic radio wave. Or something).

Thanks to a helpful friend I chatted to online yesterday, this seems to suggest that the wireless card in my laptop is somewhat buggered. The wireless card, I believe, is the bit of my laptop that acts as a sort of receiver or “crow’s nest” by searching for wireless networks in the area. Put simply, the closer the wireless card needs to be to “see” the wireless network connection emitting from the router, the rubbisher the wireless card is.

I could buy a new wireless card (an MSI CardBus CB11B2, if that means anything to anyone… it certainly means nothing to me), but are they easy to buy? And how can I be absolutely sure that this is the problem and I won’t be wasting money by buying one? And is it a problem that my laptop is made by Tiny, a company that has gone bust? And is this another of those “if I had a Mac, all would be right with the world” moments?

Oh, and the second problem is a slightly more long-running one – wireless speakers. I used to have some wee speakers that plugged into my laptop so I could play music, videos and so on. However they died a natural death a few weeks ago, and I figured it would be nice to get some wireless ones, which would minimise the risk of me tripping and breaking my neck.

And for the technophobes among you, wireless speakers would mean ones that would not be physically connected to my laptop – meaning I could move my laptop (or indeed my speakers) to anywhere in the flat and still listen to whatever music I was playing. So I asked around a few nearby shops. All said “no sorry, try PC World”.

So I did, just last week, during my mid-holiday break. PC World said they’d given up selling them because “the technology is not quite there yet” to get over things like interference from mobile phones, taxis and thick walls. I find that hard to believe. Though I confess my disbelief is down more to naïve optimism than any knowledge of wireless technology.

There are one or two for sale on various sites like Amazon, but I don’t know which one to go for, but I’ve generally only bought techie stuff after advice from trusted friends who know about these sorts of things.

So I thought I would cast the net wider to readers of this blog to solve my current problems.

Is it really too much to ask in life that I can spend a lazy Bank Holiday Monday, the final day of my two weeks’ holiday, lying in bed surfing the net and listening to music, rather than camping on my flatmate’s floor for a few minutes while I upload a rant written the night before?

Specifically, dear readers, your starters for ten are:

  1. Does it sound to you like my wireless card is really broken? Despite working fine barely a month ago? Any suggestions?
  2. Wireless speakers – let’s have your informed suggestions and recommendations.

And because I am so hapless without expert help, there’ll be an as-yet undetermined prize for any advice which turns out to be the full solution.

16 thoughts on “I hate technology: a plea for help

  1. Hi Simon, as I said on Windows Live Messenger (the artist formerly known as MSN Messenger) I’ll send you a couple of PCMCIA WiFi cards to try out on your laptop, with instructions and drivers. That way you can see if it’s your WiFi card that’s causing problems.


  2. Simon, regarding wireless speakers, I have looked into this extensively as my hifis needed upgrading. The issues are complex. The first thing you should note is that any speakers need to be powered in order for audio to be heard, so they are never strictly wireless unless they have batteries. I think you want speakers that have some kind of receiver on them which can pick up and translate whatever kind of signal its getting into audio. What I’ve actually gone for is a small and cheap FM radio transmitter (these are about £10 from amazon). Plug it into your headphones socket, and then tune in a radio in any area in your house. You can get some PC speakers for £10, one set per room. Then you can get a little FM receiver to plug into each set of speakers. Again, this can be under £10. The FM signal quality is sufficient for passive listening: depending on the transmitter, it can sound like a very good FM station, if you see what I mean.

    If you want to chat about this, catch me at the kirk!

  3. > I don’t know what HTML actually stands for.
    Hire Technology Professionals Manytimes (it’s a con to keep computer workers in business once the Millenium Bug didn’t and they all were going to be out of work).

    LAN – Local Access Nitwit (It’s having a computer specialist in your building who isn’t very good at common sense)

    WAP – We arra people (getting your phone to work by painting it blue)

    ISP – Internet Service Preventer (another way to get something cheap and then pay twice as much in phone support as you saved in the first place)

    ISBN – Now being replaced along with Trident

    PAYE – People Are Your Enemy (Computers are taking over the world a la Terminator 3, this is their rallying cry)

    BYOB – Boil your own bunny (when your stalker ex-girlfriend finnaly decides that you really aren’t worth the effort.

    “Technology is rather like God” coming soon to a sermon near you?…

    “if I had a Mac, all would be right with the world” – Almost certainly yes, whatever Gareth tells you!

    Lots of love,

  4. Hi, your network problem certainly sounds like PC card if your flat mate can get a signal and you can’t. Bit of a strange thing to just happen as there isn’t really any ‘wear and tear’ involve. A couple of things that might be worth checking..
    1- are there any patches available for your card – if you can find out the make/model sort of info for your card check out the manufacturer web site for updates.
    2- is the poor performance the same with other networks, i.e. are you getting a strong signal in a coffee shop or somewhere with WIFI other than your flat? This is just to take any the home network out of the equation completely.

    you might also want to look at some of these tips for improving home wireless. Not usually worth spending more cash on extra gadgets but there are some simple things you can do to help. However, this is for once you’ve got your own machine working again…


    Nice to have you back 🙂

  5. I’ve got a wireless card that you’re more than happy to have. It came free with my wifi package, but I already had a wireless card in my laptop so haven’t even cracked open the package. It’s yours if you want it.

  6. Simon, Java IS an island in Indonesia, don’t worry about that.

    For wireless music without the problems, if you aleady have some speakers, what about an Airport Express? You have an iPod (and therefore itunes, and it should work. It’s what I have been using for wireless music. Mind you, I have a Mac so “it just works”: the PC would inevitably be more hassle to set up…

  7. Thank you everyone, some very useful comments and I appreciate them all.

    Gareth – thanks so much, look forward to receiving them. I’ll post them back within a day or two.

    Beat – interesting idea but sounds like too much hassle for me! Why have a radio when I could just use speakers?

    Graham – on your second question, it was ok in iCafe on Gibson Street the other day (I couldn’t obviously see the router), and fine in my friend’s flat in Inverness a couple of weeks ago (when I was in a different room from the router). Which is all puzzling.

    Chris – thank you for the offer of the wireless card. I’ll take you up on that! I’ll drop you an email.

    Justin – no, I don’t have any speakers, that’s the problem. But I will bear Airport Express in mind for the future, thanks.

    Mac geeks – I am really beginning to realise that you’re right. It’ll be a while before I convert though, what with travelling and everything else.

    Isn’t life complicated…?

  8. Having successfully set up a wireless network today for members of St Silas’, I’ be very happy to pop round and take a look, if that would help?

    It could be that the router is set to broadcast in a certain way, and your card isn’t set up for it (had that problem with one of the PC cards today).

  9. Router location could also be an issue especially in the thick stone walled flats of glasgee…

    can the router be relocated somewhere more central in the flat – is there another socket or cable connection?

    remember to set up security on your wireless network – as otherwise your neighbours can get free internet from ya! (or at least I would if I lived upstairs from you!)

  10. Pingback: Wireless 2: the plot thickens « Simon Varwell’s blog

  11. Pingback: Wireless 3: Still Bamboozled « Simon Varwell’s blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *