Wireless World

At work, more than a decade ago, Wi-Fi let us take our laptops to meetings or the cafeteria or even nearby outside. At home, while the old laptop couldn’t hold a connection, so remained tethered to the DSL modem, the new laptop does just fine. So does the iPad, going on two years now.

The new laptop uses a wireless keyboard and mouse. And I’ve been using wireless headphones to watch TV for a year or so. It’s really nice having no wires for devices I’ve used for so long in tethered form. Of course cell phones started it quite a few years ago.

It all does seem to come with a new set of (minor) headaches, though!

This isn’t a rant — more a rumination, and I’m fully aware of where the word comes from. I love all this wireless stuff (plus I have something kinda cool to tell you about photons later).

Really, what it amounts to is that I wish I understood it better, so I could understand why it does all the little things that bemuse me.

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For example, why does my laptop decide it is no longer talking to the keyboard or mouse?

It hasn’t forgotten about them. In fact, it seems to have decided the keyboard and the mouse come as identical pairs, two each, and it won’t speak to any of the four.

So I have to tell it to forget both keyboards, both mice, and then we all get to do the Bluetooth binding dance. Find your partner, doe-see-doe. Do it again, here we go.

And then it’s great.

Until next time.

The part that puzzles me is the cloning. Why two keyboards? Why two mice? Why are all four treated like unwelcome relatives?

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There is another thing about these Bluetooth input devices that’s less annoying, but way more frequent — as in all the time.

To conserve power (I assume), these devices (especially the mouse) go to sleep, which ends the Bluetooth conversation, but presumably not the binding.

So when you go to use the keyboard or mouse after a long enough pause for the device to sleep, there’s a delay.

The keyboard is pretty good about using whatever key you touched to wake it up as a valid key to pass to the laptop. (My iPad keyboard works the same way.)

I wish the mouse was as responsive. Maybe I just need to learn a technique.

My instinct is to just move the mouse. As one does.

And nothing happens.

My instinct then is to immediately wave it some more (as one does).

And nothing continues to happen.

I’ve learned that if I can unlearn the instinct for that frustrated second wave and pause, we’re usually good to go.

The first gesture just wakes it up. Only when it’s awake does it talk to the laptop.

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The wireless headphones have been a real treat.

I was born with a major hearing loss and my rock-n-roll days didn’t help. Nor does age, or loud hearing aids or headphones over the years. In any event, my ears are pretty shot now.

Which means Closed Captions are invaluable, and headphones make TV, and especially music, much more enjoyable. (Music through speakers, unless concert-level loud, sounds fairly bad to me these days.)

Anyway (I told you this was a rumination), I’ve been using headphones to watch TV for many years. For a long time it was with eight five-foot sections of extension cables giving me room to roam.

So getting a TV that supported wireless sound was a nice change. Now I can roam even further (all the way to the laundry room).

What I wish I understood was why the sound randomly mutes once in a while. It usually takes several attempts to raise, lower, unmute, mute, unmute to get it back.

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Also bought a wireless speaker. The clownish kind with a multi-color LED setup that goes in time to the music (sort of, kind of, in a way). It even has settings for “sea mode” (mostly blues) and “forest mode” (mostly greens and yellows).

It’s hysterical (and it was on sale). I turn the LEDs on once in a while to amuse myself and then turn them off because it’s pretty annoying.

What I don’t get about the speaker is how low the volume seems to be for certain programs. (Or why the audio jack doesn’t work at all.) The headphones do that a bit, too, but not as bad.

One time I connected it with my TV to watch a program. I had the volume up full, the speaker right next to my head, and it sounded barely normal.

Granted, with my hearing it’s really hard to judge, but it sure seemed it wasn’t pumping out much.

And it is capable of it. Some stuff I can crank and rattle windows.

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Digital sound seems problematic with devices.

I returned a Samsung TV because the built-in apps you install for Netflix, YouTube, etc., produced extremely weak sound. Found out online that it was a known issue.

My new LG TV is great, but there was the speaker thing I just mentioned. And it can also not deliver much to the sound bar (optical connection).

It’s not constant. Same channel is sometimes loud, sometimes soft.

The Doctor Who marathon on BBC America right now. A few days ago, cranked to 100, very faint. Tonight, set to 25 is plenty.

Go figure.

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Lastly there’s the whole wireless router thing. I’m fine now, but it was painful getting here.

My old DSL, 40 Mbs, that router (2.4 GHz only) never did well with my old Sony laptop, so I always used the wire (and the laptop became a desktop, also because the battery pack didn’t work; never buy Sony).

When I upgraded to 80 Mbs, it took three service calls, three new routers, to get it working at all (and one bad leg of the wiring in my house knocked it down to 68 Mbs tops).

The fourth service call, new guy, paid off. New router that included the 5 GHz band, plus he diagnosed the internal problem (far too expensive to fix), and found a broken wire in the external plant the first guy had missed.

Since the new laptop is good with wireless, I was able to move the router to the phone jack nearest the outside, which is upstream of the bad wiring (someone added a jack and used the cheapest wire possible, not even a Cat number; the stuff in the old days we stapled to the wall to reach the phone from the hardwired jack).

So now I’m getting my full 80 Mbs, and all is well.

Except for how the iPad, the TV, and the laptop, all drop the connection from time to time.

The laptop is best at keeping it and recovering it. The TV is pretty good, too.

The iPad not so much. I often have to reboot the thing. I hate Apple.

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The thing that gets me is why?

My place is small, one level, just a few rooms. Everything is in easy range. All devices show strong signal strengths.

Is it traffic confusion with other routers? I have a condo; six units in one building; other buildings not too far away. Should I line my walls with tinfoil?

Is it a cheap router? I kinda wonder. CenturyLink was giving me pretty obsolete gear that didn’t even have 5 GHz. Maybe this one is just wimpy.

I used the 2.4 GHz for a while, and it never worked well. I finally turned it off and use the 5 GHz only now, and it’s generally been problem-free (except for the dropped connections).

Mainly just that damn iPad. Did I mention I Hate Apple?

(Now that I have a nice Windows laptop, I’m using the iPad a lot less. Pretty much just iBooks, weather, and news.)

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Anyway.

This long cud-chew was a bit of minor venting. I’m totally sold on wireless. It’s just life that it comes with a new set of irritations. Solve those, some new ones will come along.

What’s the old expression about pain making you know you’re alive?

(I will say this, though: I’ll hang on to my copper local loop until they literally rip it out of my hands. For one thing, power failure doesn’t take out my phone service!)

If you read this far, here’s a little cookie; something I like to imagine once in a while…

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We see because of light, which consists of “photons,” which are packets of electro-magnetic energy.

The amount of energy each packet has determines its color (its frequency). The light we see, “visible light,” has a narrow range of the possible frequencies photons can have.

Think of it as the “AM band” of radio among all the other bands (FM, shortwave, CB, UHF, VHF, and so forth). An AM radio can only receive AM radio, just as our eyes can only receive visible photons.

em-spectrum.png

In fact, radio waves also consist of the very same photons that make light. They have a lower energy, so we can’t see them, but they are otherwise the same.

And what if we could see radio!

The world would be a vastly different place. For one thing, it would always be light, even if you closed your eyes (radio waves go through your eyelids).

Radio antenna would glow brightly like lights (which, in a sense, they are, but we can’t see them). All the devices with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth would glow like lights.

Long ago, the world was dark in radio light, but the modern age has made it brighter and brighter. Along with lots more visible light, too (poor astronomers).

I think it would be an interesting experiment to try to construct a camera that could see radio waves in real-time. (It almost seems someone would have done it already.)

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A fanciful idea, but one that’s fun to play with when I go through the cycle of retraining my laptop about its keyboard and mouse.

Glowing lights used for communication.

Wish I could see’m.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

8 responses to “Wireless World

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I have Cox where I live, with AT&T as an alternative. I’ve stuck with Cox mostly because they’re reliable(ish) and I can use my own equipment, my own cable modem (provided it’s on their approved list), my own router, etc. I used to have lots of issues with connectivity to my router, then decided the internet was too much of what gives me joy in life and decided to spend some money. So now I have an Asus AC3100 which I’ve had excellent luck with so far.

    I used to wonder why our vision is only sensitive to such a narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum. As you noted, most of what is naturally out there is clustered in that range, which is why evolution focused on it. If we could tune our eyes to see in the other ranges, particularly the radio ones, I suspect the world would look like a strobing psychedelic mess. If we could tune to the microwave range, we could look up into the sky and see the CMB, which might be kinda cool.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “I can use my own equipment, my own cable modem (provided it’s on their approved list), my own router,”

      I’ve been meaning to check with my provider, CenturyLink, about using a different device. I suppose if necessary I could keep their DSL modem and hardwire it to a better Wi-Fi.

      One like a really powerful search light that can overwhelm my neighbors!

      Assuming interference is the source of my occasional session drops. Maybe it’s just something Wi-Fi does. Maybe it’s some other issue.

      “As you noted, most of what is naturally out there is clustered in that range,”

      With the possible exception of IR and UV, which occur naturally, and which some animals can see. I’ve read that our vision peaks in the green because that’s the frequency that best penetrates seawater. (And IR and UV don’t.)

      Most people know white light is Red, Green, and Blue, but most probably don’t know the percentages involved: 30%, 59%, 11%, respectively.

      Seeing microwaves wouldn’t be that much of a stretch; they’re right below IR. Imagine if your microwave oven didn’t need an internal light because the microwaves would “light” up the inside big time.

      Heh, OTOH, they wouldn’t get out of the oven past that shield, so I guess that wouldn’t work after all. 😀

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “Most people know white light is Red, Green, and Blue, but most probably don’t know the percentages involved: 30%, 59%, 11%, respectively.”
        I didn’t know that. Interesting. Is that the percentage in our perception of white, or the amount of each color the the visible range of the spectrum?

        “Heh, OTOH, they wouldn’t get out of the oven past that shield, so I guess that wouldn’t work after all.”
        As I understand it, the shield works because the little holes that we look through are too small for microwaves, with wavelengths of about 4-5 inches, to fit through. But it seems like some, aligned just right, would get through, just not enough to cook our faces, but maybe enough for an eye tuned to it to see something?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        My understanding is that the percentages are due to our eye’s response curve(s). Our eyeballs evolved underwater, so they’re most sensitive to visible light in the green range, which penetrates water best.

        I have noticed that when I’m wearing wireless headphones while making dinner, if my head is right next to the microwave (which is head height), the headphone signal breaks up a bit. They do both share roughly the same GHz range. No idea if it’s leakage around the seal or through the little holes.

        I was thinking interference played a role, but I was conflating it with how CDs work (the pressed kind, anyway). Until recently, I didn’t realize exactly how the pits and lands worked. Descriptions usually just say they reflect light differently. What’s going on is that the lands reflect the laser, but the pits are sized to create interference that cancels the light, so less is reflected.

        I thought it was a scattering thing!

        Anyway, I found this link on Stack Exchange that goes into how the screen works. (And it sounds like it works pretty well!)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On eyesight, it’s interesting that the green and red ranges are relatively close to each other, while blue is further away. Many animals only have two types of cones, which are thought to convey blue and yellow to them. But in humans, we only perceive yellow if both our green and red cones are simultaneously excited.

        There’s a theory that the colors are set up in oppositional pairs, yellow vs blue, red vs green, and while you can have reddish blue or blueish green, you can’t have redish green or yellowish blue. (If you mix these colors, you get something that seem unrelated: yellow and white respectively.). Our nervous system seems arranged to make the oppositional colors as distinct from each other as it can.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “But in humans, we only perceive yellow if both our green and red cones are simultaneously excited.”

        I have a buddy who is color-blind, the type where his red and green cones are too close together. He bought those glasses that are optical notch filters; they reduce light frequencies at the mid-point between the red and green cones, the idea being to give more discrimination.

        He said he never realized morning glories are purple before, so they did change his color perception. Studies have shown the glasses work for some, not for others, and with varying degrees of success when they do work.

        Still,… purple! 😀

        Fine-tuning optics like that fascinates me. We had glass-walled conference rooms at work where the glass had sharp notch filters for the R, G, and B, of displays. Apparently fully transparent glass walls, except any monitor screen looked black through them. Lots of light and visibility but also privacy.

        “…while you can have reddish blue or blueish green, you can’t have redish green or yellowish blue.”

        I read about a study that attempted to get people to see blue-yellow, green-magenta, or red-cyan. Sort of amounted to one eye each and fuzzing them together. Some people did experience something that seemed a new color experience.

        If you set up a monitor to display two pure (saturated) color blocks, one primary, one the compliment secondary, you can try it yourself. Sometimes in the boundary between them I seem to see something that isn’t either, isn’t white, and does seem a new color experience.

        At the risk of forever altering your perception, do you know about Hollywood’s Orange-Blue phase? (Also sometimes called Orange-Teal.)

        I think opposing colors make sense in any multi-receptor color system. It’s the only way to perceive multiple colors (other than by how cameras do it with filters), especially if your receptors aren’t fine-tuned (as biology often isn’t).

        Two signals, for instance, give you four basic areas of color-space: none, one, other one, both. That’s enough to create an adequate color map, given receptor overlap and linear(-ish) response. With three signals, you have eight, which kind of explains our rainbow.

        As you know, cameras use filters and sensors sensitive to amount of light only. The filters are fine-tuned to Red, Green, and Blue, and it is only those frequencies that allow this to work, because they’re our primaries. You couldn’t pull it off with any other colors.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’m still amazed those glasses work, although you have to wonder what they’re actually seeing.

        “At the risk of forever altering your perception, do you know about Hollywood’s Orange-Blue phase? (Also sometimes called Orange-Teal.)”
        Interesting. I didn’t know about that, but now that I read about it, I do see it in just about every modern movie currently playing on cable.

        In a slightly different trend, I do know that Hollywood likes to drain the color out of just about any historical piece, I guess to add gritty realism, which once you know about it, is also hard to stop seeing.

        “As you know, cameras use filters and sensors sensitive to amount of light only. ”
        I actually didn’t know that, or if I did, I had forgotten it. Although if you think about it, that’s basically what color sensitive cones are, photoreceptors that filter on a specific range of wavelengths, ignoring all other light, as opposed to rods, which just register the amount of light in any wavelength.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The effect is the same. In a camera, the actual photon detector is sensitive to all (visible+) photons, so three filters deliver three photon streams to three photo chips that generate the RGB signal. In eye cones, the actual photon detector is tuned to a specific frequency band and three sets of intermingled cones all see the same photon stream.

        One of the things that surprised me was how not evenly spaced the cone response curves are. You’ve probably seen a diagram like this:

        I wonder if it connects with how blue is only 11% of white light.

        Those percentages, BTW, mean that yellow is a whopping 89% of white light, which explains yellow fire engines.

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