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August 15, 2004

Airport Express extends non-Apple base stations

When I got home with my new Airport Express base station/print server/iTunes stereo interface thingy, I decided to try to set it up as a range extender, using Wi-Fi's WDS technology on my home network. Apple says the APX will only work with an Airport Extreme base station, and around the web, I've seen a few people claiming it can't be done, because WDS is not really a part of the 802.11 standard, so vendors are free to implement it in their own way.

This appears to NOT be the case. Leafing through 802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide, it looks like WDS is in fact, implemented in a standard way, with each repeater taking a role equivalent to a single port on a switch.

The good news is that I got lucky with my hardware selection. About a year ago, I bought a Buffalo WBR-G54 base station, so I could use the Airport Extreme card in my PowerBook at full speed, and because, after rebates, it was $50 (!!) at CompUSA. The Buffalo has a very frustrating interface, but lets you set everything under the sun, and a jack for adding an external antenna, all for around half the cost of an Airport Extreme Base Station. It's therefore a good choice for geeks looking to save money and unafraid of getting their hands dirty. It's also very similar to the Extreme base station, and showed up as a choice in my Airport Express software, when it was looking for a base station with which it could associate.

It was a fairly simple matter to get the two units on the same channel with the same SSID and the same password. Since I'm filtering on MAC addresses, I had to make sure the Buffalo had both MAC addresses from the APX, and had to set the APX to serve packets originating from the Buffalo. It can be hard to tell if it's working, so iStumbler can be a big help: When you see two base stations with the same name and channel, you're likely home free.

The Linksys routers, which are generally the standard among geeks who know, have some problems here, and people are flashing custom firmware to get this to work with them.

Some links:

garth.org | Buffalo WBR-G54 and Apple Airport Express as a Relay

Set-Up Guide Buffalo WGR-G54 BaseStation with Apple Airport Express in WDS mode.

Apple - Discussions - Buffalo WBR-G54 + APX = WDS WORKING!!!!

Buffalo Technology - Downloads

August 15, 2004 in Apple - General | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 11, 2004

Express checks in for hotel WiFi

I bought an Apple Airport Express today, when I saw they were in stock at the local computer store (probably influenced by one of our developers, who has been pestering the Apple Store for weeks, and hearing that they're not available yet). I am on the road today, and I knew I would be spending two nights at a hotel with high-speed broadband, so I thought I would get a good chance to try it out.

If you haven't seen the Airport Express, it's a tiny Airport Base Station, MINUS the dial-out and antenna, but PLUS a stereo-out jack (one jack that can handle analog or digital out). Here's what I had to do to use it:

  1. Open box
  2. Plug in the power
  3. Plug in the ethernet
  4. Join the network that shows up

Since I'm on a hotel network with the "Accept our terms" page, I popped up a browser, agreed to the terms, and started downloading several hundred bounced spams (some spammer or another has discovered a domain I administer, and is forging spam from it).

Long term, I think it will spend its time in my travel bag for use in a variety of remote sites, including my parents' house, in hotel rooms, and possibly at client sites. It also supports WDS, where one base station extends a network provided by another. When I get home, I'll try WDS with my Buffalo base station; so far I've only seen one report confirming that it worked with (I think) a D-Link base station. Update: It was a Linksys 54g, but some gymnastics were involved.

I hooked up my travel speakers to the audio-out, went to iTunes, and was briefly baffled: The speakers don't show up in the list of devices at the left of the iTunes window, but in a pop-up menu at the bottom. Switch from "Computer" to "Base Station 0xb38ag" (not its real address), hit play, and the music is coming out of the speakers across the room.

Connecting from my Tungsten C was totally uneventful as well. Everything works exactly as you would expect. If you had adjoining rooms in a hotel, you could share a single wired connection very easily with the Express, say if the hotel charged for internet access, or you wanted to use Rendezvous between rooms. I could also see using it in a corporate suite or at a trade show.

I haven't tried the print server capabilities, but they're on-board: The Express has a USB port with directions on hosting printer sharing out to the wireless network.

One small surprise: The Airport Express closely resembles the power adapter that Apple uses for the PowerBook, down to the piece with two wall prongs that slides off, and that I immediately replaced (on my PowerBook, that is) with the longer extension cord provided. With the Express, there's no extension cord in the box, so you have to plug the Express directly into the socket. Apple sells a Stereo Connection Kit that includes that extension cord, plus two sets of Monster-brand stereo cables (TOSLINK and RCA).

Amazon has a great price on the Express right now, and as always, if you get one by following the link below, I'll get a kickback:

August 11, 2004 in Apple - General, Apple - iPod | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 05, 2004

2 iPods + 2 iTunes - iServe = frustration

I have defended Apple's FairPlay DRM in the past, partly because it appears to emphasize fair use, allowing multiple burns of a playlist to CD, and letting you share your music to 5 computers across the network, and an "unlimited number of iPods."

My perspective has changed a bit. Christy's iPod mini, ordered in late April, well in advance of her birthday and Mother's Day, finally arrived in time for back to school.

So here's the setup: I have my PowerBook, with much of our CD library and all the iTunes Music Store purchased music. Christy has an iMac with a different set of tracks from our CD library and no iTMS songs. Christy has a 4-gig iPod mini, and I have a 1st-generation 5-gig iPod.

Here's what I expected: I thought that by virtue of having FairPlay-authorized iPods attached to FairPlay-authorized computers, iTunes would manage things, and Christy and I would be able to shuttle music from either computer to either iPod.

That is, in fact, NOT the case. Given Apple's provided software, the iPod can't pull music across the network, and you can't set up an iPod to pull 3 playlists from computer A, then hook it up to pull 2 more playlists from computer B. If I want to put purchased songs on Christy's mini, I have to populate it only with songs from my PowerBook.

Apparently, Apple assumes that every family will have a central computer that holds all your music, and every iPod user will go to it to sync their iPod. Hasn't Apple heard that people carry these “laptop” thingies nowadays? I don't want to leave my purchased tracks at home when I go out of town, although I suppose I could bear it if they're all on the iPod. The only way I could see the central computer approach working is if Apple shipped an iServe, with built-in iTunes synchronization (not just Rendezvous, er, OpenTalk sharing, but full synchronization).

One solution I may actually try is to cross-synch our iPods, with Christy's iPod featuring songs that are on both computers and songs that are only on my computer, and my iPod featuring songs common to both computers and songs that are only on her computer. That way, between the computer and the iPod, we would each have nearly a full set. Still hardly an ideal solution.

The longer-term solution is likely one of the million iPod manager programs out there, so I guess I'll start messing around with them, and I guess I'll have to check out Hymn and DeDRMS. It just seems really bizarre that I've bought into Apple's system from end to end, but it doesn't work like it should. I welcome correction, if I've overlooked some setting or shortcut, and I welcome pointers to any of the iTunes/iPod tools that people have used in a similar situation. This strikes me as profoundly contrary to true Apple-ness, and to the ideal of "personal" computers.

Update 8/7: This is actually easy, but completely separate from iTunes itself. Apple has a useful how-to, and it's as simple as copying the files over to a computer that's already authorized. My mistake was expecting it to all work from within iTunes.

August 5, 2004 in Apple - iPod, Apple - Software | Permalink