Steve DeRose's Road Warrior Guide: Connecting

Internet Access

Be sure you have multiple ways of getting online while on the road.


Connecting by modem is required less and less often; most hotels now provide Wi-Fi, as do many coffee shops and other venues. I no longer carry phone equipment, but if you frequent places where you'll need it, consider:

Wired access

Wireless access

  • Many Starbuck's, perhaps even all, are installing wireless access points. Have your wireless configured ahead of time (the network name is 'tmobile. You can set up a TMobile account on the fly if you don't do it ahead of time..

  • Know the "warchalking" symbols that show where open wireless nets happen to extend onto public property. If you see two "C"s back to back, that indicates an open network. Whether it's open because the owner wants to be helpful to passers-by suffering Internet withdrawal syndrome, or because they forgot to set a password, of course varies. In either case, don't abuse the opportunity or hurt anything, because if that becomes common people will start closing down their nets, and everyone loses.

    You may want to know the names and default passwords for the common wireless access point hardware. There are many, but lists are available online. If you have a wireless net at home or office, you need to be aware that there is such a thing as the default name and password, so you can change them if you want to close or secure your net.

    You might consider a wireless net sniffer. Software for your laptop can use your wireless card to look around and detect networks in the area. One free program for this is Kismet.

    Communicating with other laptop users (local area networking)

    Be sure you have multiple ways of moving data between machines.

    Removable media ("sneakernet")

    Be sure to have at least one device that can read and write a commonly-used removable storage medium; and carry blank media too. The obvious choices are:

    Local Networking

    If you are going to a conference and want to be a hero, take along a hub and perhaps some extra ethernet cables. Hubs now are dirt cheap, tiny, and light. For conference-room or airplane networking, don't waste the energy or money to go higher than 10MB. It may be possible to find one that can be powered from a USB port (one less power supply to carry).

    Ethernet setup

    You also need to know how to configure systems to use Ethernet when there's no network infrastructure around. There are basically two ways:

    1. "DHCP" is a system where when a device plugs into the network, it broadcasts a request for an IP address to use. If there's a DHCP server on the net, it should then reply with an assigned address to use, along with addresses for the router, gateway, dns, etc. Some control panels call this "obtain an IP address automatically". This is easy for all the machines plugging in, but somewhere there has to be a DHCP server. Many routers have this built in (though they're heavier, more expensive, and can't generally run off USB, unlike hubs). You can also get software and configure your laptop to be a DHCP server for the others. For Mac OS X an example is ___.
    2. Manual IP assignment requires no special DHCP server, but requires each machine to set it's own address manually. Several ranges of numeric IP addresses are reserve for "private use"; use these. The most important one is through For small networks, put everyone in the range through, and have everyone set their "subnet mask" to (which requires all but the last number to match throughout the local network).

    Once you've got everbody talking to everybody, you need to use programs and protocols for moving data around. For example, you may want to make a "guest" account on your computer and enable access to your machine via telnet, ftp, or other protocols. On Mac OS X you enable the kinds of access you want to provide, in the System Preferences / Sharing control panel; you create accounts for people using the System Preferences / Accounts control panel. "guest" and "anonymous" are commonly-used names for such accounts. Once you've done this, people can run telnet, ftp, or a browser. To reach your machine they need to use your (numeric) IP address, whether you got it from DHCP or manually (look it up in the Network Control Panel).

    I don't know anything about how to configure "Windows Workgroups" and such for file sharing, but I presume it can be done that way too.

    Information transfer for a whole group

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