In Praise of Wires

They're reliable. They're fast. They're cheap. They're amazing!

By  |  Friday, October 2, 2009 at 11:22 am

USB Halo“It would have been more logical if silent pictures had grown out of the talkies instead of the other way around.” America’s sweetheart, Mary Pickford, said that. I’m not completely sure I understand what she meant–but I think of the quote often. And lately, I’ve been thinking that it would have more logical if wired connections had grown out of wireless.

A few weeks ago, I bought a gadget I’d been contemplating for awhile: an Eye-Fi wireless SD card, designed to transfer photos from camera to computer over a home network. Its slogan: “No wires. No hassles. No kidding.” Every once in awhile, it works as advertised. But mostly, I’ve spent more time unsuccessfully troubleshooting it than shooting pictures with it.

Which means I’ve spent a lot of time in the Eye-Fi support pages, reading items like this:

Range variability

The wireless range of your Eye-Fi Card for photo and video uploads is listed as 45 feet indoors and 90 feet outdoors. These values are under ideal conditions, camera bodies, walls, building materials and other electronic devices can contribute to reducing your card’s wireless range. When encountering wireless upload failures from within your camera, move your camera closer to your wireless router. Generally if you are within 15-20 feet in line of sight of the router you should be fine. Take several pics and wait for a minute or two to see if the card uploads. If it still fails, remove the card from the camera and insert it into your computer via the supplied card reader. This will allow for maximum range since the card’s antenna will not be constrained by a camera body.

In other words: You might need to make sure there are no walls in between your camera and your router, and if that doesn’t work, you might need to put the card into the computer, as you might have done if you’d used a plain old SD card. Doesn’t sound hassle-free to me!

I know that I’ve been the victim of bad luck, possibly stemming from my network rather than the card–folks who use the Eye-Fi tend to rhapsodize over it. But for the moment, I’ve gone back to transferring photos via a nice, boring, reliable wired connection. And it works. Every time.

Then there was the TechCrunch50 conference, which I attended a couple of weeks ago. Last year’s edition of the show was bedeviled by dreadful Wi-Fi connectivity. (I wasn’t there, but I’ve probably attended more industry events with crummy Wi-Fi than ones with decent service–which is one reason why I broke down and sprang for a Verizon EVDO adapter.) At this year’s TechCrunch, however, the Internet access was as robust as you could want–and it was apparently so good in part because it was provided in part via cables. As far as I could tell, the setup involved Wi-Fi access points, but each one had a bunch of old-fashioned Ethernet cables plugged into it, so most of the folks in attendance could get online by plugging in a cable rather than attempting to connect to a Wi-Fi network.

I won’t even discuss wired headsets vs. wireless ones, in part because I¬†already have, repeatedly. And also because I’m currently experimenting with using a Bluetooth hands-free device in my car. It’s not bad. On the other hand, it’s not truly wireless, since I need to remember to plug it into its charger. And it has a tendency to inexplicably get de-paired from my iPhone. Like almost all wireless devices, it requires a degree of babysitting that most wired devices don’t.

And maybe I’m just an old fogy, but I’ve never warmed up to the idea of wireless keyboards and mice. Why force yourself to futz with batteries when USB not only establishes a reliable data connection between input device and PC but also delivers power, for less money?

I don’t wanna come off as a hater. I use multiple forms of wireless technology every day–Wi-Fi, EVDO, and my iPhone’s 3G. I’d kind of be lost without them, or at least a lot less productive. But whenever I undertake tech tasks that involve wired connections, I’m not left thinking “Gee, this is embarrassingly archaic and I can’t wait until I can do this wirelessly.” Actually, it usually reduces my blood pressure a tad, since I’m generally confident that whatever I’m trying to accomplish will, in fact, occur.

Like I said–if we’d all been using wireless connectivity for the past few decades and someone came up with Cables(tm), we might consider them to be a dazzling breakthrough. That said, I’m reasonably confident that I’ll live to see the day when almost nothing relating to computing involves wires of any sort. I just hope it’s an improvement on the current situation…


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10 Comments For This Post

  1. Glenn Fleishman Says:

    My problems with the Eye-Fi have more to do with the lack of integration with most cameras (that’s changing slowly), to handle power-down after transmission. I’ve used several models of Eye-Fi with no difficulty at hotspots, office, home, etc. I typically, however, put my camera near the access point at home because that’s a convenient place to put it. Coupled with an auto-watch feature in a shoebox organizing program I use, I have an automated workflow for importing into a catalog.

    A lot of (but not all) event Wi-Fi connectivity is provided by firms that simply scatter access points and don’t do any management, properly set up channels, or have a good backhaul situation. They should also be packetshaping, something that’s cheap and easy to do, to keep streaming video from overwhelming quotidian purposes.

    There are some terrific conference Internet + Wi-Fi firms; I’ve been at shows that have tons of users and Wi-Fi works great. But it’s not a function of Wi-Fi. It’s a network architecture issue.

    With so many laptops with dual-band 802.11n built in, it should be easy to have a robust smartphone/laptop network even with 1,000s of users. Corporations do this every day.

  2. jason Says:

    i love wires.

    i would think that broadcast television to cable would be a good example of the “new invention” of wires.

    you didn’t even mention the whole wifi security headache.

  3. Josh Says:

    I was also hesitant to go wireless for the same reasons but, ultimately, my love of a clutter-free workspace has been winning out. It’s so nice to make a rat’s nest of wires disappear… especially considering that most wires are five times longer than they need to be, and the ones that I need to be long are always too short. I am not, however, fond of batteries. Harry, check out the Logitech Performance MX mouse. It’s wireless and rechargeable via a USB cord; so, when it’s recharging, you can use the mouse like a regular wired mouse. It’s pretty neat.

  4. tom b Says:

    Wires can be more secure, too.

    I don’t think EVERYTHING needs to be wireless…

  5. TechClicker Says:

    The big advantage to wired connections, in addition to those already stated, is the added level of control as to where your data goes. I’m confident there isn’t some hacker sitting in my parking lot grabbing data off of my wired network. With wireless, anyone can tap into the transmission, especially since WPA has been cracked.

    I am looking forward to widespread implementations of wireless power transmission in applications such as TV’s and other highly visible consumer electronics products. The aesthetics improvement alone will be well worth it.

  6. Dale Dietrich Says:

    Amen! Especially re: wireless keyboards and mice!

  7. ediedi Says:

    I love my Bluetooth mouse. I would not consider a wired one for my laptop.

  8. Michael Laganella Says:

    Hooray 4 Wires!!! Hooray 4 Wires!!! Hooray 4 Wires!!!
    I totally agree. Thank you!

  9. Matthew Abel Says:

    Sometimes, I want a wireless connection. Sometimes, I like a wired connection. It all depends.

    Keyboard, mouse: Wires.

    Video game controller: Wireless.

  10. Kerensky97 Says:

    Designing Networks for customers I get frustrated when they want an all Wireless network; invariably they always have performance issues later down the line. Desktop computers don’t move so you might as well hardwire them in; it provides better speeds for the desktop and better speeds for the wireless users you do have.

    Wireless is a convenience ADDON to existing wired infrastructure, not a replacement.

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