As a source of tech support for my family and friends, I grew frustrated over the years watching them feel fearful of technology. I never thought my loved ones would truly feel independent when it came to using computers. I was a skeptic.

When my cousin, a liberal arts major, got a Mac based on my recommendation (the first of many experiments where I’d use my loved ones as guinea pigs) and tech support questions all but disappeared, I started paying attention.

When my brother, a History major who loves jokes about Henry Kissinger, bought an iPod and had been using it regularly without ever asking me what he should buy or how he should set it up, I was impressed.

When my wife, a conservation journalist, made a professionally looking hard-bound photo album of our wedding, I was delighted.

When my uncle setup email on an iPhone without any guidance from me, the first time he ever used it, I was thrilled.

And finally, when my aunt easily learned how to text on a hand-me-down iPhone after years of staying away from cell phones, I was no longer surprised.

None of these people have any interest in being technologists. They don’t talk about clock speeds, Anti-Virus, or defragging. They talk about reading, planting virtual crops, and enjoying movies and spider solitaire in bed.

All my life, I never understood what it was like to be a fan of anything like a band or a sports team. But watching the people I love enrich their lives in small ways with technology without needing my help, I became a fan.

Thank you Steve for inspiring us, by example, to build technology that disappears as it delights.

WiFi is nowadays as ubiquitous as email, cell phones, or mp3 players. And as each new WiFi technology has come up, we’ve been able to use the technology, ironically, to “wire” our homes with all kinds of media and connectivity.

802.11b, the original standard with mainstream success, was good enough for web browsing but not much more. Its successor, 802.11g, has been good enough for web browsing and streaming most kinds of video, and is still the most commonly deployed standard in today’s home routers and mobile devices (including smartphones).

But newer 802.11n standard routers are available this year (and supported on most new laptop models) that allow you to reliably stream blu-ray quality HD video anywhere in your home (with a strong enough signal permitting). But to get the sort of reliable throughput you expect for uninterrupted HD video streaming, a few tweaks need to be made.

Enter Apple’s Airport Extreme.

Apple’s gear is generally quite good, made from quality parts, and speedy out of the box. But as a consequence of how 802.11 networking works, you can make a few tweaks to the Airport Extreme configuration to get extra speeds.

802.11b and g traditionally ran on 2.4GHz networks. But 802.11n added 5GHz to its operating frequency. Unlike the 2.4GHz band, 5GHz offers much less interference, at least for now, only because there are much fewer devices that run on them. But this ability also gives wifi routes additional power to run at much higher speeds.

However, for maximizing backwards compatibility, if there are any 802.11b/g devices on the N network, the router kicks back into G mode, and runs on G speeds. To get the most out of your N network, you need to run a separate network purely for N devices.

Since you are running a network on N devices, and since all N devices support 5GHz, why not run it on 5GHz? This is exactly what the Airport Extreme gives you, but in a very non-obvious way.

Note below the transfer speeds I measured from transferring a 1GB video file across the G, N (2.4ghz) and N (5GHz) network:

File Size: 1.01 GB h.264 video

Sharing using the AFP protocol between a Mac Mini (source) and Macbook Pro (destination) 8 feet away in the same room:

802.11g at 2.4 GHz: 769 seconds

802.11n at 2.4 GHz: 467 seconds

802.11n at 5 GHz: 209 seconds

The huge difference in running on a pure 5 GHz network is worth the upgrade to a good 802.11n router. The Airport Extreme allows you to run two networks (one hybrid, one pure 5 GHz). Definitely exercise this option so your N devices can run on their own network and get the huge (100%+ speedup) benefits.

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