The joys and woes of Wi-Fi working

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Hurricane Katrina left my street in Miami without power for a week, and as a telecommuter, I had to find places with Internet access in order to work during the outage.

This included connecting several times to a Wi-Fi hotspot at my neighborhood Barnes & Noble bookstore, which also houses a Starbucks coffee shop. Having worked out of the solitude of my home office for the past eight years or so, I have to admit I felt excited when I pulled into the parking lot and walked toward the bookstore armed with my laptop, cell phone and assorted work papers and documents.

After buying a latte, I would find a table and get to work. At noon, I would eat lunch at a nearby place, walk back, spend 20 minutes checking out the books, and then sit back down to earn the rest of the day's pay. Brilliant plan!

Well, let's just say that the arrangement wasn't as convenient as I originally imagined it would be.

First, the good news: I did get my latte, and it was great, as usual. Connecting to the Wi-Fi hotspot was straightforward and the high-speed connection worked great.

Now the gripes.

Power outlets. I was happy to discover that Starbucks chairs were of a shape and height that is conducive to typing with a portable computer on your lap, so for the first 90 minutes of my Wi-Fi adventure, I was rolling along. But then I started running low on battery and I couldn't find a power outlet in the cafe area. The Starbucks attendants confirmed for me that there were none.

Then I noticed a sign placed prominently on a wall saying something to the effect that seating at the cafe is for Starbucks customers, meaning that if you're not drinking coffee or eating a pastry, go slump in a bookstore chair. So I gathered my stuff and roamed around the bookstore searching for some place to plug in my machine.

I found a power outlet in a nice spot by a big glass window looking onto the sidewalk. There were chairs there as well. Excellent, I thought. But as soon as I sat down with my now plugged-in PC, I immediately realized that while these Barnes & Noble chairs might be great for sitting down to read a book or a magazine, they weren't designed for typing into a laptop.

Which brings me to my second gripe: ergonomics. The chairs were too deep, and the armrests too high. So now I didn't have to worry about running out of battery, but I was quite uncomfortable typing. Of course, at the time, I had no way of knowing how lucky I had been to find one of those laptop-unfriendly chairs. At another time, as I made my way from the Starbucks section to plug my machine into this outlet, all the chairs were occupied and all the outlets taken by other patrons. I found a free outlet all right, but in a tight space where there were no chairs, and then I discovered the joys of typing while sitting on the floor.

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