This text is copyrighted by McGraw-Hill 

At Home in the 21st Century


Beaver Cleaver wouldn’t recognize 
most of the places we live in today.



         The main character of that black and white 1957 TV show “Leave it to Beaver” lived in a mythical suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.  Beaver’s Dad was the quiet-spoken Ward. Ward was a rock-stable professional who put on his suit and tie and commuted to his nine-to-five job downtown each weekday as precisely as a mantle clock. (He wore the tie at the dinner table, too.)

          Every morning, Beaver’s Mom, June, would kiss Ward goodbye and stay behind to do the housework. When she was not serving milk and cookies she would push a vacuum cleaner around the living room while wearing a hundred-dollar dress and pearls.

          If all that seems like life on another planet to you, it’s because the home and its functions in our lives has evolved considerably since then. The suburban split-level with the picket fence and lawn is still there for those who want it. But a vast array of choices is at hand for those of us who want or need something else. Similarly, our economic and social lives have new and practical alternatives.

          It’s not hard to imagine how the Cleavers would live today. First, old Ward wouldn’t have to drive in to work every day, nor arrive at a fixed time, nor stay for just eight hours. He wouldn’t work at the same company for thirty years. He might work for several at the same time, or work for himself as a consultant. Modern Ward would work wherever and whenever he wasn’t doing anything else, which means working in airport lobbies, on the commuter train, or perhaps on the kitchen table. You can forget the necktie—sometimes Ward would work in his pajamas. You might see Ward walking on the golf course, talking aloud to no one as a crazed homeless person might, but you should look again. He’d probably be using his cell phone earplug with its built-in wire mike. Ward could be cutting a deal while slicing the ball.

         The June Cleaver of 2002 would work, at least part time. June might carry a briefcase or perhaps even wear a tool belt, but whatever she does, her personal computer wouldn’t be more than a minute’s walk away. She may shop on E-bay, and probably hasn’t seen her banker face to face in months. She might not know the people across the street but she would be an active member of a community that stretches the breadth of her life experience, unbounded by geographical borders. June could keep track of hubby, the kids, and Gramma from her desk by free, fast email. Her PDA would herd her stocks for her, and squawk when something unpleasant happened on Wall Street. As with Ward, June’s work, her leisure, her family and her social life would gradually become homogenized into an undifferentiated time stream.

          Twenty-first century Beaver wouldn’t haul many textbooks to and from Cleveland Elementary. His most important book would be his Power Book. He could use it to get his assignments, write his papers, pull his research, paint his pictures, take his tests and fetch his grades. He probably grew up with friendly, powerful, cheap computers. He would be as comfortable with his computer as the original Beaver was with his bicycle. Modern day “Beav” would see his laptop as his telephone, record player and television. It would be a major part of his persona and his gateway to the world. If the Beaver should get grounded for example, he might use instant chat to stay tight with Eddie Haskell and other friends. He could play Saucer Command in real time with e-buddies in another state. He might even feel closer to some of his E-pals than to his own big brother, Wally.

          Thanks to the World Wide Web, we are all elbow-to-elbow in cyberspace. As a people, we are becoming more and more reliant on instant information and communication to carry on our lives. Those without access to data cannot compute—at least, not for long. And those who cannot compute cannot compete. Thanks to the sudden arrival of Wireless home networking, also known as Wi-Fi (for Wireless Fidelity) or WLAN (for Wireless Local Area Network) there are fewer and fewer “dead spots” where that ocean of data is not available at a nearby faucet. Often, one of those places is the contemporary home. This book will tell you how to make your house or apartment into a connected, on-the-air hot spot.


Turning Your Home into a Hot Spot

       The benefits of networking computers are so obvious that businesses today accept the necessity as a given expense and standard practice. Perhaps the best example of those benefits, and the problems you might face today as you network your home, is the first wireless network. The Wireless Network was born in 1970 and called AlohaNet, because it linked the Hawaiian Islands. Norm Abramson, a professor who relocated from Stanford’s engineering department to the University of Hawaii, designed AlohaNet. He explained that the surfing—real surfing, not net surfing—was better there.

A Brief History of Wireless Computer Networks

        Hawaii presented a unique challenge and opportunity for those engineers and graduate students. At the time computers had already been linked, but only across a computer room floor, using a cable the diameter of your thumb. The only alternative was known as Sneakernet, in which data was put onto a floppy disk or tape and carried to a distant computer, presumably by someone wearing comfortable sneakers. That was inadequate for the islands, which were separated by distance and natural barriers. Moving a spreadsheet by courier might entail an expensive boat or helicopter ride. The tapes or printouts could get lost or damaged, and in any case the information they contained would be aging even while it was in transit. Multiple copies would accumulate. Corrections or updates required more boat rides.

        Those limitations are actually familiar to today’s commuters, who often carry their CD-ROMs or laptops from their offices to their homes and back again day after day. It would be so much easier if they could just move the information and leave the battery packs, wires, and floppies behind.

        But Hawaii’s isolation in the middle of the Pacific also handed the AlohaNet engineers a solution. Plenty of radio frequencies were available for use as a transmission media. There were relatively few people, and therefore relatively little man-made interference. The flat ocean provided unobscured line-of-sight paths for the signals to travel. Soon a blizzard of data was flying from Lanai to Oahu at the speed of light. The concept had been proven, but could it be exported to the mainland? The answer was: Not easily.

   Coaxial Cables

       California abounded in mountains, which do not pass radio waves. Wherever you tuned on the radio dial in metropolitan areas, someone was already there. When a new frequency band became available through regulation or a technology advance, lots of entrepreneurs waited to fill the vacuum. Wireless networking had to be put on hold as engineers were forced to return to coaxial cable. This wire used a central element surrounded by a layer of insulation and a cylindrical metal or woven shield. It was expensive because it had to be manufactured to precise tolerances. But data signals did not escape from it to pollute the airwaves, nor did interference penetrate. The scheme was given the name broadband, because as the amount of digital data increased, it could be apportioned onto additional frequency channels. Often those channels were shared with traditional video signals on the same type of cable that brings television signals into your home.


Multiconductor Cables

        When cheaper technologies were developed a decade ago, the coaxial cable was deemed obsolete and replaced with the LAN, or Local Area Network “drops” we know today. These are unshielded Multiconductor cables, about the diameter of a chopstick, adapted from use by the telephone industry. Their immunity from signal pollution comes from the arrangement of the wires inside. To this day, universal twisted pair wiring remains the most common way of making computers talk to one another.

        It is rare when a technology rises from the dead, but propelled by an unquenchable popular demand, broadband TV cable is once again being used to deliver data to millions of homes. Likewise, recent advances and refinements have revived wireless as a means of easily interconnecting computers inside homes, businesses, and home-based businesses. That realm has been given the acronym SOHO, for Small or Home Office. Over 180 manufacturers are sending SOHO-targeted products to market.  


The Internet Arrives  

       As the means of interconnection has evolved, so has “the end”. The Internet began with The National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as an A-bomb-proof means for academics and military researchers to send text to one another. Until 1992, using it for profit was actually illegal. Since then it has become a commercial, all-encompassing medium unto itself, augmenting and even displacing traditional communications channels, such as radio, television, telephones, newspapers, and even the postal service. Some new businesses, such as or the Google search engine, could not exist without it.

      At one time, home telephones were considered to be either a luxury or a business imposition. But they quickly turned into a necessity, such that most homes now have several, with many on second or even third home telephone lines. In turn, these wired phones are being augmented or displaced by cell phones. The same process is happening with home computers, as they migrate from the business desktop to the kitchen tabletop.  Homeowners know that their PC power is multiplied when they share information.

  DSL Arrives

        The stage was set for Wi-Fi home networks with the arrival of DSL or digital subscriber lines. This development allows your connection to the telephone or cable TV systems to double as high-speed data channels to the Internet. To get the 1.5 megabits-per-second speeds that DSL now offers, customers previously would have to purchase a dedicated “T1 line” which would cost between $700 and $1100 dollars per month. A DSL connection, which can carry regular phone calls as well as data, costs about a tenth of that. Like broadband Cable, telephone infrastructure has the considerable advantage of already being in place under streets and hanging from “telephone poles.”  You will not need to dig a trench across your front lawn to get connected.

       All of these technologies can now be applied in combination so that the Internet, or World Wide Web can finally cross the “last mile” into apartments, shops, and split-levels from Cleveland to Fairbanks. 

     Practically anyone can afford it. As time marches on, few can afford to ignore it.


--Raymond J. Smith


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