Book Review: Wireless Hacks

By Graham K. Rogers

Wireless Hacks I am writing these notes on a new Intel iMac that was delivered here earlier this week. Looking at the iMac itself will be the subject of another column, but with its arrival I have been able to use Airport (WiFi) to create an ad hoc network and run my PowerBook from that.

I knew this was possible but had never mananged to get it to work (Ethernet in, WiFi out). I tried once briefly with the Mac mini now in my office, but since that time, I have been reading the second edition of Wireless Hacks and that has helped considerably.

I looked at an earlier version of this work about a year ago when it had the subtitle, "100 Industrial Strength Tips and Tools". The number of hacks has increased somewhat and Rob Flickenger is joined by Roger Weeks, who also co-authored Linux Unwired. The full team of "Hacks" writers includes some 21 other contributors.

When the book came out of the mailing package, I knew immediately that it was much heavier than I had expected. As I looked through it (and compared the earlier work) it was clear that not only were there more hacks, but that the book had been reorganised.

I find myself increasingly using WiFi connections these days: when you do not, you do not know what you are missing. It started with the office network that uses a D-Link router. Then I used the services available at Siam Discovery Centre (now stopped) and TK Park. There are also the True WiFi locations (for good or bad); I checked my e-mail when up in Tak, using my Bluetooth phone and the PowerBook; and recently I have been testing a CDMA wireless modem. We shall have wireless wherever we go.

With these connection types, I have found invaluable information in Wireless Hacks.

The book is certainly not just for users of OS X. The first chapter is about Bluetooth, Mobile phones and GPRS: OS X, Linux and Windows; as well as straightforward phone hacks, like putting Google maps on a mobile phone. Chapters Two and Three look at networks and their security.

Several contributors examine the tracking down of networks. These days in Bangkok these are increasing in number. I use a utility explained here (and in the first "Hacks" book), MacStumbler. This shows me any WiFi networks in the immediate area, their strength and if there is password protection. The Mac itself also perks up if it finds a network that might be accessible.

Fortunately for the companies and owners of these access points, most are protected. But not all: home users are the worst offenders and the most vulnnerable. There are plenty of suggestions here for how to set up systems to analyse the network, particularly if attacks are suspected.

Chapter Four examines hardware, while Chapter Five concentrates on Software: about 50 and 70 pages respectively. It was the software chapter that solved my WiFi problem with the two Macs. In the hardware chapter, among the hints is a way to send power over your Ethernet link: particularly useful in an area where power is not readily available such as a loft.

Chapter Six starts with the point that hardware prices for wireles networking have reduced considerably. We find this even in Bangkok. Nonetheless, this chapter does have some interesting projects for the amateur, including the famous Pringles can antenna, which my students still shy away from.

Reading through this chapter gives one a fair insight to the science of the antenna and woulkd be a good grounding for anyone with pretensions to network skills. Couple this with the final chapter, "Wireless Network Design", and the book has other values over and above the simple "fixit" range. It should be noted that, with the control of frequencies in Thailand, some of the hacks here (particularly long-range networks) might not be legal for the amateur. Nonetheless, knowing about them is not and it would be useful for anyone wanting to work for a wireless provider.

Like many similar O'Reilly books, there is an abundance of illustrations: screen shots, graphs, tables and photographs. These help the budding hacker to follow the text explanations more easily, particularly when setup screens are being discussed. At about 440 pages plus index and appendices, this is a valuable book that also has had good additions to the hacks now included.

I am occasionally sent questions about using Macs and OS X. Apple is currently sponsoring some workshops at TK Park, Floor 6, Central World Plaza, for those wishing to learn more. Saturday sessions are intended for adults while Sundays are for smaller people. The workshops are conducted in Thai. TK Park has several G5 iMacs there, so if you want more (or similar) sessions, tell them.

Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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