The Keeper of the iBook

Wireless Networking

Mark Newhouse <>
March 6, 2000

All wet

The idea came to me in that place where all great ideas are germinated, the shower (in fact I wonder where the inventor of the shower was when that brilliant idea was conceived). I was an item on the meeting agenda, placed there to discuss the recent changes to part of the Web site I design. The changes involved a form that is filled out, the results of which are e-mailed to our program evaluator.

I had been planning to talk about the new Web pages, and discuss how once the form is submitted, the responses are sent via a nicely formatted e-mail. Later, those who were at the meeting might remember to visit the site on the Web, but even then they would only get half of the experience. No, this would require a demonstration.

A paradox

There were two parts to this demonstration. The first was to show how I translated the paper-based form to the web. It is a pretty page as forms go, but nothing much nicer than what I had already done at the site. The real beauty was what went on behind the scenes once the submit button was clicked. This was where I had toiled, putting the best of my blood, sweat and tears into making it work as elegantly as I could. The problem is what I call Newhouse's Paradox: The simplicity of the interface is directly proportional to the complexity and power behind the scenes. And the more work that is put into making it work, the easier it looks. Yes, this was something that definitely required a demonstration.

Back to the shower

I may have been all wet at the time the idea came to me, but I realized that for full impact this demonstration was going to require a live Internet connection. I would need to show the web-based form, actually submit it, and then switch to my e-mail in-box to see the formatted results of the submission. Fortunately the meeting would have a relatively small number of participants, so there would be no need for an overhead projection system (even I know that there is such thing as technological overkill). All I'd need was a laptop and an ethernet connection. I was pretty sure the conference room had ethernet, but I wasn't sure about the laptop. Then I remembered that our department was the recent and proud owner of a Tangerine iBook! Could it be that all of this could be done wirelessly? The geek in me could hardly wait to get to work and find out.

The geek factor was high

Once at work I logged in and quickly changed a line or two of Perl code. Then I checked the form to make sure that it was sending the e-mail to me. It was still early, so I had to wait until the guy with the iBook came in. As soon as he arrived I went down to his office and asked if he had brought the iBook in that day, and if the AirPort had arrived. I don't think I was this nervous the first time I asked a girl for a date. I was hoping for a different answer this time.

I was relieved to see him pull the iBook from its hiding place as he told me that the AirPort had arrived and was working, but was in another guy's office. I took the iBook to the conference room for a test. It couldn't find an AirPort base station. But I did verify that the room had ethernet, and even better, the ports were behind a curtain.

After another short wait I trekked over to yet another office and explained my plan and need of the AirPort unit. Thank goodness for Mac Geeks, who are all too willing to help. I was soon on my way to the conference room with the AirPort unit and iBook. We plugged everything in, and it worked! (What did you expect?) I logged in and checked my e-mail, just to make sure everything was working, and I was set.

The waiting game

I don't think I have ever been as anxious for a meeting to take place as I was that morning, the rest of which was spent setting up the iBook (alas, via ethernet) so that the Web page was loaded and the e-mail software was ready to log in. And then a few more tests of the form and its script - you can never be too prepared.

Finally, my day in the sun had arrived, well, my 10 minutes, anyway. The meeting began, and I had the iBook in front of me. I opened it up as the meeting began and it immediately woke from sleep (how cool is that?) Under the guise of taking notes, I logged in to the AirPort base station (hidden behind the curtains), and then my e-mail account. Once the web page was up, I was all set.

Not as cool as Jobs, but no less impressive

I guess I am just too much of a geek. I couldn't keep the wireless aspect a secret. Or maybe I just didn't want the impact of what I was doing to be lost on the less technically savvy, but I let them in on my secret. As I did my demonstration, I did not let them forget that not only was this live on the Internet, there were no wires!

The denouement, more exciting than the climax

The presentation was a success (how could it not be!?). In fact the next day we had another meeting. Just prior to the meeting my coworker who had been keeping the iBook walked up to me at me desk and handed it to me. "Here," he said, "I was talking with our boss and we realized that you would probably make more use of this than I am."

And so I became the Keeper of the iBook!

Mark Newhouse is the Web Designer for the public outreach arm of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, AZ. He has been using Macs for over a decade, and is very excited about his new iBook responsibilities.

The iBook image is courtesy Apple Computer, Inc. The iBook icon is courtesy the Iconfactory.

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Keeper of the iBook Copyright © 2000, Mark Newhouse, all rights reserved

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