The truth about your WiFi and how to get the fastest and most consistent speed possible

By Timothy Liao

So many people have asked me about WiFi and why their wireless network is so spotty that I got tired answering everyone’s question and decided to just write a little blog about how WiFi works. I went looking on the Internet for a good way to explain to the average person, but couldn’t find a good up-to-date website that fully explained the differences and all the factors that go into what makes WiFi successfully and often unsuccessfully work.

The first thing you have to understand is WiFi is not perfect. There are way too many variables that come into play to always have the best WiFi conditions. For instance, if you have bought the most recent iteration of WiFi called Wireless “N” that is capable of giving you WiFi speeds up to 300mpbs, you can’t have that speed unless all your devices on that network have a chip inside that is capable of receiving the Wireless “N” signal. What happens if just one of your devices doesn’t have that chip? Well, two things can happen. If you are like me and you make your router only Wireless “N” compatible, that device without the Wireless “N” chip built in will not work. If you must have a device that has no Wireless “N” chip built in still work, then all your other devices on the network will be knocked down to the speed of the lowest common denominator device which in most cases is the Wireless “G”. That means if you have four devices in your house, two computers, one iPad, and a cell phone and three of those devices have the Wireless “N” chip installed, while one of the computers has no Wireless “N” chip but instead a Wireless “G” installed, you will only get as much speed on your network as the Wireless “G” device will give you. Not fair, well don’t blame me, I have no control over the laws of physics. See that is an example of how complicated the variables are to get the fastest and most consistent WiFi possible.

Here is another example of how complicated WiFi is – the variable of frequency has nothing to do with speed. So whether you are on the 2.4GHZ or the higher 5.0GHZ band, you are almost guaranteed to the get the same speed. Now what are the advantages of using 5.0GHZ spectrum as opposed to the 2.4GHZ? Well that has to do interference. By going 5.0GHZ you are bypassing the possible interference you most likely will get with cordless phones, cell phones, and appliances such as the microwave. So when I was using the 2.4GHZ spectrum for my old Wifi device, I often suffered spotty coverage especially when the microwave oven or dryer was on. OK so let’s say you go 5.0GHZ bypassing the issues you had with interference. Guess what, you now find yourself struggling with radius issue. Yes, even though 5.0GHZ is more powerful and can be interference free, you now have a problem with how large an area that higher frequency covers. Think of AM radio compared to FM radio. Even though FM Radio is more powerful than AM Radio, the FM signal covers much less of a area than AM Radio. So if you do have a router that allows the option of the 5.0GHZ frequency, be aware you are going to be covering a a smaller area in the house.

This is actually a very important distinction people need to understand. The bars that show signal strength does not equate to how fast your Wifi connection will be. Just like the bars on your cell phone will not necessarily equate to having faster network coverage (remember Apple Antenna Gate), the bars that show signal strength on your Mac or PC do not indicate how fast your network will be.   So a 2.4GHZ network will give you more coverage area than 5.0GHZ coverage area but it has nothing to do with power or speed, remember the FM vs AM example.

Now back to something more basic, but yet just as confusing – the “A” “B” “G” “Pre N” and “N” factor. First off unless you have a computer from 2002 or using a PCMCIA card to access the Internet, let’s go ahead and not bother to explain “A” and “B”. Let’s also take out “Pre N” because most people probably never bought into the silliness and confusion of “Pre N” which was just a marketing ploy by the networking equipment manufacturers to sell equipment before Wireless “N” was certified and readied. Overwhelmingly most people still have “Wireless G” networks and those that have “Wireless N” are not running them at highest potential. Wireless “G” gives you 54MBPS while “Wireless N” has the potential of giving you 300MBPS, but remember what I said in the first paragraph, unless all the devices you are running have “Wireless N” chip built in, you are not going to come close to that speed. Note you can buy a Dual Band Router that will broadcast both a Wireless “G” and Wireless “N” signal without losing any speed but I find them rather inconsistent, unnecessarily complicated, and way too overpriced.

In conclusion, a decade since most Americans began to adopt wireless, it is still way too complicated and consistently frustrating. Even today, if it wasn’t for the expense and the effort of rewiring, I would still try to go with a ethernet cable in every room. It’s not a lost cause though, because it is getting closer with Wireless “N”.  As more people phase out their Wireless “G” and replace them with Wireless “N” routers and get newer computers, tablets, and wireless devices that have Wireless “N” built in, then people will realize the potential of a more powerful, less complicated home networking solution. As long as they don’t give us another new WiFi standard soon to complicate our lives, we will be just fine.



My Smooth Jazz Fetish or Why Smooth Jazz is More Important than People Give it Credit For

By: Timothy S. Liao

One of the absolute least cool traits I possess is my adoration and pure enjoyment of Smooth Jazz. Yes that music you hear on radio stations like the “The Wave” or “The Quiet Storm”. There will be times I catch myself driving down the road with sunroof opened, sunglasses on thinking I am the coolest thing since Tony Orlando and Dawn blasting my smooth jazz for all the twenty-somethings to be envious of but only to be reminded I’m listening to music even forty-years old won’t even put on their iPods. The thing about smooth jazz is that it was the type of music I had to listen to secretly in my room, away from the discerning ears that would often hint to me that my taste in music was flawed. This include those who would often remind me just because it share it’s nomenclature with jazz, it didn’t necessarily qualify as jazz. You see to them Jazz is cool, beatnik cool but Smooth Jazz is just souped up elevator music, music of 70s and 80s television jingles, dinner party background music, and music your unhip parents would put on in the car to end the argument between the kids about what station to put on. But I am here to educate you to the fact that smooth jazz is about so much more. First and foremost Smooth Jazz was born of real authentic jazz and there is no four better musicians that exemplifies that then Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Dave Brubeck and Herbie Hancock. These were the beatnik musicians that were responsible for taking jazz into the second half of  the twentieth century and transforming the music from being the music of Harlem, New Orleans, and Kansas City to the music of progressive San Francisco, the classy Upper West Side, and the relaxing ambiance of Sunny Southern California.

The Most Influential Modern Jazz – Smooth Jazz Artist Based on Decades

1950s and 1960s gave us:

Miles Davis – Was a trumpeter that help create the jazz fusion category of music that was the bridge between traditional jazz and today’s modern jazz / smooth jazz

Wes Montgomery – Was an American jazz guitarist that influenced so many modern jazz and rock guitarist including George Benson, Pat Methany, Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani and even the late great Jimi Hendrix.

Important: Take Note of all the great rock guitarist that have called Wes Montgomery a influence. Black culture, Blues Music, and Jazz were very important contributors to the Rock N’ Roll suburban White kids grew up listening to in the 1970s and 1980s.

Herbie Hancock – For those of my generation that only know Herbie Hancock for the 1983 futuristic song Rockit, beware that he is so much more. His songs Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island are the precursor of wonderful modern music to come from the 1970s and 1980s.

Dave Brubeck – Was the King of the Beatnik culture. His song Take Five is definitely a classic and is just as timeless today as it was when it was released fifty years ago. On a side note I remember seeing a episode of the Flinstones when I was kid, where Fred takes on the role as beatnik, a cool cat type character. That was Dave Brubeck.

Vince Guaraldi – If you can name one jazz song we all know – from the time since we were children, that song would be Vince Guaraldi’s Linus & Lucy the song people simply refer to as the Charlie Brown theme. Which I would then have to correct them because there is an entirely different tune called the Charlie Brown Theme. But it is Linus and Lucy that is most popular and when anyone hears that song – they are instantly transformed to the innocence of childhood, with some even doing that silly dance where it looks like their just walking in place. Vince’s jazz music is so well a reflection of Charles Schultz’s vision of life for the Peanuts gang, they pretty much go hand in hand. No offense to Schroeder, but the carefree nature of Schultz’s cartoons would not have had the same effect if classical music had been used. I met Charles Schultz a few times in Santa Rosa at random places like the Pacific Market. I even attended a memorial service for him when he died in the late 1990s. I really felt a strong affinity for the man who drew Charlie Brown, the lovable loser I have always seen myself as.

Soon To Be Continued


Apple’s Mac or Microsoft’s Windows? 2011 Shopping Guide

By Timothy S. Liao


So on April 20, 2011 I welcomed a new member into my family. A beautiful 4.9 pound baby boy I am calling Sebastian. Sebastian is neither human being or animal but instead he is a brand new 2011 version of the 13 inch MacBook Pro.  Before you accuse me of falling off my rocker and not being able to distinguish between warm blooded creatures and inanimate objects, please be aware of two important details. First this is the only object I have ever owned that I have given a name to; even though I have many objects that I love. Secondly, I fell off my rocker years ago and only have recently had the audacity to flaunt my insanity to the public.  My feeling about sanity is that it is way overrated and to be a truly gifted artist I aspire to be, maybe I do have to let sanity fall by the way side. So if I am truly going to go insane, why not join the other millions of MacHeads that have already drank the Kool-Aid? Can I get a Amen! The truth is that I’m probably like the majority of most Americans, who had always wanted  to go Mac but at the last minute was tempted by the lure of cheaper more powerful Windows machines. These machines that never quite excited me allowed me to keep another $500 dollars or so in my pocket.  Now before I go on with my rant, I thought it only be fair to share with you that in May of 2000 I did buy my first PowerBook and for the most part was left feeling dissatisfied, definitely nowhere inspired enough to bestow it a name. You have to understand even though Macs are pricey now, they were astronomically pricey back then. This PowerBook G3 with 6GBs storage – not RAM but hard drive space, 512 MB of RAM, a Motorola processor, and no Wifi cost a whopping $2499 in May of 2000. Note it did have a DVD player, a first at that time, but I don’t think it could even burn CDs let alone DVDs. I do remember sitting at a Starbucks in Santa Rosa, California in May of 2000 and watching Saving Private Ryan and all sorts of people looking at me with astonishment that I could watch a movie in a coffee shop.  But still the machine was $2499. That said, I remember PowerBooks being even more expensive a few years before that, as I remember in college seeing PowerBooks that were upwards of $5,000. Fast forward to 2011 and here I am writing about my new MacBook Pro that retails for $1199 but I got for $999. Maybe it is just my warped perspective being a child of the 80s and early 90s and remember how much computers use to be – that allows me to look at a new 2011 MacBook Pro for $999 as a steal. BTW for those of you truly interested in purchasing this MacBook Pro at this price, I think they still have a deal on these at the MicroCenter. I had Best Buy match MicroCenters price, but please be aware that was nearly a month ago.

No matter what computer you buy whether Windows or Mac, please remember this important adage: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR! I cannot emphasize this enough. So many people I have seen the last few years have gone out and purchased the sub-$400 killer deal Windows laptops that they see advertised and have called me a few months later asking me to fix a problem only to have me tell them their computer can not be fixed because they are just way too underpowered and poorly manufactured to do what they want it to do. I am one of the few people that actually have had good experiences with Windows laptops. It’s important to note that I have also never bought a cheap Windows laptop. That being said I have also never bought an expensive Windows laptop either. I have always found the balance of getting a good PC that has outperformed my expectations and have lasted very well without having to spend too much. I know “Too Much” is a relative term but it all depends what your priorities are. If you enjoy getting all liquored up nightly and buying a cheaper computer – that is your own perspective but for me I rather invest more in a nicer computer while keeping my alcohol – nightclubbing budget to a minimum. But that is entirely another issue. Here we go – finally we get to the topic at hand: WHY YOU SHOULD EITHER INVEST IN A MAC OR A BETTER QUALITY WINDOWS MACHINE………….

Windows, including Windows 7 is still very much a resource hog when compared to the Mac OSX:

First you have to understand something important about Windows machines compared to Macs: Even with all the wonderfulness of Windows 7, Windows still takes much more resources to run than the Mac OS. I am not bias, and certainly not a Mac fanboy but this is something that is true and indisputable.  I have ran test myself including running Windows from Bootcamp on my new Mac and I can tell you that Windows is much more taxing on the hardware than Mac OSX. The biggest threat for hardware failure on any machine, especially laptops is heat. And when the operating system generates more work for the CPU, the computer is much more susceptible to failure.

The following factors make a more expensive Mac a better value than a Windows laptop:

Even though you are going to be paying on the average $500 or more for a Mac with similiar specifications than a Window’s laptop, you will make the difference back with these Mac benefits.

#1: The Operating System: Like stated above Windows, even the current iteration is an incredible resource hog. There have been pushes from vendors for the last decade to port the Mac Operating System for third party vendors to use in manufacturing but Apple has wisely resisted. Why? Simply put, it is the biggest differential aspect of Mac and Windows machines. Hardware wise, Window’s machines can easily duplicate the Apple hardware formula, even though often it ends up costing more – but it is clearly the operating system that Windows machines can’t emulate. If Steve Jobs in the late 1990s had agreed to allow third party vendors to make clones using the Mac OS, Apple the computer company would most likely not be in existence today.

#2 The Unibody: Apple has always had better quality hardware than their Windows counterparts, but they really raised the bar when they went with the unibody design. The unibody design makes a seamless product that much better. There is no argument that the machines are more beautiful, but more importantly it is the build quality that comes from the unibody design that makes it much better than anything you can buy from a third party manufacturer of Windows machines. The failure rate on the Apple’s unibody designed computers is much less because of the well thought out densely packed area where the components are placed. When you can pack the components more tightly into a laptop, the chances it is going to break because of movement or instability becomes much less. The chassis on  the MacBook are just so clean and so well laid out.

#3 The Battery: When Apple started to see a large flush of capital come in from the revenue stream of iPods and the iPhones, they invested heavily in other parts of their R&D including battery technology. This actually goes a bit hand in hand with the Unibody benefit, since Apple makes the customize cases and therefore can make batteries that use more of the space within the laptop and use it much more efficiently. When people tell me you can buy a similiar i5 laptop running Windows with similiar specs as the $1199 MacBook Pro for about $400 less, this is one of first things I ask them How Much Battery Life are You Getting and Can Your Battery Last Up to 1000 charges? Well to the average consumer, they wouldn’t necessarily know the answer to this question but I can tell you that it the answer is a overwhelming NO!

In Conclusion: You are paying more for a Mac but based on clear overwhelming evidence you should be paying more. Remember the adage: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. In fact based on all the tangibles and intangibles Macs offer, the value of a Mac far surpasses that of a Windows laptop. Now here is the trick though. The lowest cost MacBook is $999 and the lowest cost MacBook Pro is $1199. If you want a 15 or 17 inch screen with much more power and other high end specs like dedicated video memory you’re then looking at a price range between $1799 to $2499 which is ridiculously expensive, still great computers but the value proposition begins to diminish greatly. So I would say buy a $1199 MacBook Pro as they are definitely the best value. But if you do insist on buying a Windows laptop to do things like play games, still stay at that price range between $799 and $1199 and do not be tempted to go towards a cheap computer you see at $599 or below.