FTLComm - Saskatoon - August 18, 2000

tomb of confusion

The speed at which technology shifts our awareness and cognition is something that merits much more discussion than we all have time for and as a result those changes have been chugging along and we either adapt assimilate or dive into a tomb of confusion.

main frame computers

When the electronic information age began terminals, a screen and keyboard were connected to a communications device so that a clerk or data-processor could input and manipulate data on a mainframe computer. For several decades that is what computer technology consisted of and the main frame computers were pitiful and difficult pieces of equipment to use.

"Apple Talk"

In 1980 the personal computer was emerging it was not as powerful as the main frame but was remarkably flexible and many times more easy to program and operate. These early machines worked in an independent fashion from each other and that gave them some of the power and ease of use but it also limited their capabilities. In 1984 Apple computer company had already introduced a $10,000 machine that was graphic and could interact in a network. Borrowing from its technology Apple produced "Apple Talk" a networking protocol that allowed inexpensive personal computers to communicate in networks with one another. By then 300 baud modems were growing in popularity and the beginning infrastructure of telephone intercommunications between computers was well on its way.

designed to work in a network

The Macintosh was quickly making its way into the marketplace and from its very beginning the Mac was designed to work in a network. People using personal computers with Microsoft DOS systems could spend a fortune and produce networks using complex cards and communications protocols but there were few who would do so. From the beginning of the Mac's introduction into education networks were standard features and used simple telephone wire and files could be passed around and printers shared.


The sophistication of networks since the late 80s has truly been impressive so that even Microsoft Windows based machines can be easily networked and high speed Ethernet systems for both Mac and Windows machines are common place in even small offices and even in homes. But wires are trouble, installation, moving, plugs and hubs all are hardware nightmares and the move to wireless networking is no longer something of the future it is here.

network without any wire

Bell Labs Lucient Technology developed a method for transmitting data and their system has become the standard protocol that is now adopted throughout the computer industry whereby any computer or device can be rigged to work on a network without any wire connection. Though in theory the concept seems simple, in practice this is a new frontier.


Apple licensed from Lucient the main component systems and introduced into the market place a brilliant concept almost a year ago. The system is called "AirPort". Modern iMacs, their desktop tower machines the G3 and G4 Pro machines, iBooks and Powerbooks all can be turned into wireless networking machines creating networks that allow the equipment to be moved about yet still connected. The key element to this system is a small base station which can connect to telephone and link up to ten computers together and give them all access to Internet using a single telephone line.

remarkable technology

Though sounding cool the inital release of the Airport system was not successful, things frequently didn't work and there was some resistance to installing it until this year when Apple upgraded the software that was driving the system and instantly everyone began raving about the remarkable technology.


We at FTLComm had a go at the technology and began trying it out in a house network and were amazed at its simplicity and flexibility so when a customer wanted to invest in a new computer system for their offices we readily recommended "AirPort" as the focus of their project. This all sounds great until you introduce the human element namely "yours truly" into the equation.

dislike for reading manuals

I had mastered the old telephone wire "LocalTalk" systems of the early 90s and graduated to Ethernet in the late 90s, was I ready for the great leap forward into "wireless". Well almost! I have the theory down and my dislike for reading manuals and tech documents established itself as a major obstacle.

after my installation nothing worked

Yesterday we began installing the four new computers into a Saskatoon office and equipped each machine with an "AirPort" card which enables each computer to talk to each other and to a base station without any wires linking them together. I dutifully installed the hardware in each machine and at some point my mind went into neutral and I took the CD that came with each card and began installing it onto the central G4 machine. To my surprise it was actually already sharing data with the existing localtalk system and after my installation nothing worked.

works great

Apple in their wisedom had built the "AirPort" card boxes with a CD in each and in the mean time the new computers were shipped with brand new systems in each. Remember how originally "AirPort" did not work well because of its initial software. Behold I had installed the non-working software on top of the operational software that had originally come with each machine. This little mistake took about three hours to correct and the story isn't over. I had installed a bridge that would let the existing "localTalk" system to work with the new airport and though it had worked before I did my retro install as of writing this morning the AirPort works great with the new machines connecting each together and giving them Internet access but the old equipment is not yet integrated I will tackle that problem on Monday.



But, I wanted to tell you abou this experience because we all need to realise the corner has been turned. Wires, though interesting things are no longer the central part of networks and networks are the central part to computing.

major step

The power of personal computers is in their ability to communicate with each other share data, obtain routines and information we need all seemlessly and the "AirPort" system is a major step in this direction.