With all the distractions these days, it's a wonder I get any work done at all. There's email (business and personal), CNN.com and FoxNews, the telephone (business and personal) and that great time sink called Instant Messaging that I've somehow managed to avoid (so far). Then there's practicing those critical 4-foot putts on the office carpet and the short game out back, the daily workout, and two baby girls who (thankfully) love to bug their work-at-home daddy in his office out back and access all their favorites sites like Barbie.com and Disney.com, on his computers.
Given these realities, and an obvious lack of focus and concentration, I've resigned myself to working in the evening when distractions are minimal and darkness curls around me like a blanket, focusing my attention on keyboard and monitor. Pre-kids, 9 to 11 p.m. was peak productivity time, but then came Rosie, who in our unique marital system became mine to get to sleep each night, a process that usually starts about 9 p.m.
In the beginning, the time was brief: a book, a bottle, and sweet dreams. But as Rosie grew, so did the time it took to get her to sleep. Of course I love her with all my heart, but nothing is more frustrating than waiting 60 to 90 minutes for a child to fall asleep, while you sit stressing about upcoming deadlines.
The situation came to a head this winter, while I was writing a book and absolutely couldn't lose those valuable two hours. Then it hit me. I'll install a computer in Rosie's room—still spend the quality time with the book and bottle, but work as she tosses and turns, sings her little songs, and ever so slowly falls asleep.
So I dragged one of the Dell workstations out of my office and into Rosie's bedroom, and duplicated the development environment necessary for the book. But Rosie's room had neither telephone cord nor network connection, meaning that the medium of exchange for my nightly text and screen shots became the Model T of data transfer, a multisession CD-R. This was acceptable for data transfer, but I was out in the cold for driver updates and any necessary online research.
Though we had a computer in the downstairs library that connected to the Internet via cable modem, my wife nixed the idea of stringing a category 5 cable up the stairs. Sure, I knew there were several other options to share that cable connection, but wasn't willing to spend the dollars to learn whether Home Plug would work on 40-year-old wires or whether wireless would penetrate a triple-brick home.
In addition, though I've built my share of computers and can install any Windows-based capture board on the planet, the thought of network and TCP/IP settings makes my toes curl. Setting up my office LAN, which shares a DSL connection, took several hours of assistance from the local network guru, thankfully at country rates, but still more than I was willing to invest for this particular project.
Pushing me over the brink was Adaptec, who offered to donate some 802.11b wireless gear to see if it would work in the hostile environment of a century-old brick home. The payoff for those thinking "digital studio" isn't the current transfer speed, which only moves 11mbps—about 10% of the 100mbps we're used to in our offices. It'll be 802.11g, the wireless standard due out later this year that will push 54Mbps.
Whether 802.11b or 802.11g, going wireless was too tempting to resist, given the ability to lose the wires that clutter my office floor and gain portability. Besides, both 802.11b and 802.11g routers can handle both wired Ethernet at 100mbps and wireless connections, providing the best of performance, portability, and design flexibility—you can keep your wired network devices at the higher speed while adding the benefits of wireless.
As it turned out, installation was a non-event. I simply connected the wireless router between the cable modem and downstairs computer, and then installed a wireless interface card in the Dell in Rosie's bedroom. There were no TCP/IP numbers to set, no protocols to choose. Everything just worked.
Performance at first was a bit slower than I would have liked because the wireless router was tucked into the back corner with computer and the cable wiring. So I strung a CAT5 cable under the library carpet (where my wife won't see it) and installed a repeater with a better line of sight up the stairs. Soon I was pulling files down at 400-500Kbps on the Dell, and totally sold.
Once the network was up, I quickly discovered additional wireless products, like the Apple G4 Titanium I'll write about in my next column. I guess I knew the world had gone wireless, I just didn't know how far it had gone and how easy it was to implement.
Of course, now that I'm connected upstairs in Rosie's room, I'm tempted by the same sirens that steal my concentration during the day: email, news, and, with baseball season finally here, streaming Braves games over Real.com. I've lost that deliciously isolated feeling of an unconnected computer, and two- to three-hour stretches of uninterrupted work. Ah, progress.
From the perspective of the digital studio, however, I learned two critical lessons. First, networking on Windows 2000 and Windows XP is nowhere near as tough as it used to be back in the bad old days. It really is something for you to try at home, or at the office for that matter.
Second, that you should factor 802.11g wireless into your long-term network plans, if only for your laptops or other movable computers in your office. Unless you've already moved to gigabit Ethernet, the drag on performance isn't that substantial. Just be prepared for the consequences.
Speaking of which, isn't Greg Maddux pitching tonight?