Wireless Interventions

Ages ago (late 90’s), we were looking at ways to facilitate adhoc working. We wanted to be able to take over a space — a café, a hotel suite, wherever, and make it instantly usable for digital collaboration. We prototyped a tool which consisted of an attache case containing a small linux box which provided file and network services, as well as routing between a dialup connection and a wireless access point (this is pre-wifi — we were using Breezecom kit). It worked and worked quite well — it was possible to plug this thing in, boot it up and everyone with wireless laptops could get on the net, share files etc. But we never really took it any further.

Then a couple of years later, wifi was standardised, Apple released the AirPort, and the whole wireless thing really took off. Strangely, I’ve never heard the AirPort discussed as a way of building adhoc working — it’s always seemed to be sold and used as either domestic access point, or for commercial infrastructure. But of course it’s still possible to put one in your bag, take it somewhere, plug it into a phone line, and open up a temporary access zone.

But AirPort and its ilk only provide access — content must be independently brought into range to be available, or fed over the Net from elsewhere. Nothing wrong with those scenarios, but I’m still interested in the potential of the emergent PacketPCs (so-called, such as the Sony FSV-PGX1 and Toshiba Hopbit). Seems a shame that these units are simply file servers, rather than a programmable platform (although I’d be surprised if the hackers don’t get onto that issue fairly quickly!). But even so, they’re interesting. Is PacketPC the concept for the future for adhocery? The current generation still don’t seem to be the right thing to carry around always on (I wonder about the battery life, for instance), but they push in the right direction And at least they make the idea of the adhoc collaborative space more attractive than an attache-case full of hacked laptop and wireless kit!

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