In town meetings we use the Internet for a wide variety of uses, from photo walls to display images collected during our WalkShop tours, to brainstorming and voting with our AnyWare suite of tools, to collecting ideas using Google Docs or Google MyMaps at round tables. The latest WiFi cards are making connecting to the Internet possible in places where the Internet normally is not available. The MiFi 2200 for Verizon (click here for a useful review) card, for example, makes it possible to connect up to 5 computers at 3G speeds to the internet.
While still dependent of good cell phone reception for the carrier associated with your card, WiFi cards have saved us on several occasions. And Do-It-Yourself (DIY) techniques helped us even in situations where the carrier reception was existent but very weak.
Last week PlaceMatters helped bring several internet based technologies into a 2 day charrette for the Rocky Mountain Institute's Living City Block program, we found the Verizon signal on our MiFi cards to be unacceptably weak, thus slowing down the speed of our AnyWare tools. The Tattered Cover's tech guy, Mike (who happens to teach online courses at MIT during his spare time) showed us how to make a nifty DIY amplifier for our card. He used a 6 inch lid from one of their gift shop tin cans, cardboard, and tape to boast the signal. A week later, while working in the mountains, I found myself making another DIY amplifier to make it possible for me to post this blog.
With an aluminum foil casserole dish from the store, I was able to make a mini dish to amplify the signal. Went from 1 bar to 4 and was able to stop that perpetual spinning circle that kept showing up in my browser and email, and finally get some work done.