This was another week in which I inadvertently proved you are never to old to learn by learning something myself. The trouble is that I did not set out to learn anything. It was thrust on me.

Some time ago I mentioned some clients who have a large house and cannot communicate over their LAN from one end to the other, so they bought another router and ISP account. They put one router in the north end and one in the south end. That gave them complete coverage. I asked why they hadn’t simply put in a repeater or high gain antenna and maybe an amplifier. They didn’t know about those things, and the cost wasn’t an issue. They knew how to set up a LAN from scratch, so they did what they knew how to do. That is human.

I offered to rationalize their setup, but they were happy with it the way it was. So be it.

But now I have some other clients whose house is a close approximation to a Faraday cage because their wireless signal goes from their office, down the hall, and peters out before it reaches their kitchen. I did install a high gain antenna for them and that got a usable signal in the kitchen, but they still could not get a signal in their dining room or – and this is critical – on the patio. After all, warm days are here and who wants to work inside?

Not to worry. I told them that I had seen a repeater on special at Fry’s for what seemed like an attractive price. I would buy it for them and set it up. Big mistake. It wouldn’t work right away, so I took it home where I could be embarrassed in private and installed it on my LAN. That sort of worked. The repeater kept turning itself off because of some super cheap power connector. But I had guessed my way around the errors in the instant (!) instruction manual and made it talk. When I took it back to my clients, I got more egg on my face when if didn’t work again.

Now it is totally true that I had never set up a repeater before, but it should be simple. At this point I reverted to what has worked in the past and exchanged the cheapie repeater for a higher-priced one of the same brand as their router. That was my first learning experience. It was more expensive, but this one would work – wouldn’t it?

The salesman at Fry’s put me off a bit when he shook his head and said, “Those things are finicky. You are best off to stick with the same brand, but even that is not a for sure thing.” That is not the kind of comment one usually hears from someone whose job it is to sell you those finicky things. I appreciated the honesty.

This time I opened the box at home and had no trouble installing the repeater on my system. The documentation was accurate, and the firmware in the repeater behaved correctly. With great confidence, I returned to my client’s house and installed the repeater. Within minutes they had great signals throughout the house and patio.

Then came the reckoning. I had told them what a repeater would cost, but the one I installed cost more than twice as much as the cheapie one that was on special. Since these are good people and we have a long relationship, I told them that I would stick with the original price and swallow the difference. I see no reason why they should pay for my learning curve. They would have none of it. They insisted on paying the full price for the better unit.

They are delighted with their new setup. I am happy to have helped them. We both are happy to know we have an ongoing relationship based on mutual trust, and I learned how to set up a repeater – more or less.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]repeater, network, LAN, signal strength, router[/tags]