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Rethinking Warchalking

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When the warchalking meme hit, I remember wondering what the big deal was. I understand the allure of wireless networking—I’ve been wireless in my home since the days of slow, proprietary systems—but I didn’t understand why warchalking would be useful. Sit down someplace, open up NetStumbler, and if there’s an open hotspot, you’re connected.

But today, walking through downtown Sacramento on a lunch break from jury duty, it dawned on me. I’ve been wondering if there are any Wi-Fi hotspots in the area, and so far, the only one’s I’ve found with NetStumbler are protected by WEP. (Even though WEP is almost trivial to crack, I figure that someone would only use WEP if they didn’t want random people connecting to the network, so I stay out.)

As I walked past a Starbucks with a T-Mobile sign in the window, I suddenly had a rush of understanding. Warchalks are just like that T-Mobile sign. They are advertising an available hotspot to anyone who wanders by. To find hotspots with NetStumber, I have to be wandering around, laptop in hand. That’s impractical at best, especially when walking in the rain.

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