Help me fix my dead wireless before I kill again.
June 27, 2006 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any idea why my laptop suddenly stopped connecting to any of the various wireless networks in my building, but connected immediately to CompUSA signal when I took it into the store this morning?

Caveat: this question involves stealing wireless net access from my neighbors. Please don't lecture me about it.

I've been using the same three unsecured networks in my NYC apt building for a year and a half. There are others, but these three are the strongest. Last night, the laptop suddenly stopped connecting to any of them. It "sees" the networks, and the signals are strong, but nothing happens. I tried everything I could think of, disabling and reenabling, rebooting, even reinstalling the driver. Nada. After hours of this, I figured there must be something wrong with the machine and went to CompUSA to have an expert take a look. While waiting on the long line for service, I turned the laptop on and sure enough, it connected instantly to the store's unsecured connection and I surfed the net with no problem. But when I went home, I had the same problem.
So why would all the different unsecured networks in my building suddenly stop allowing me to hop on? And can you think of anything I can do to fix this? Because the lack of net access is making me twitchy and psychotic.
posted by CunningLinguist to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A theory: All your neighbors have the same ISP. Last night, that ISP went down for a while.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2006

In that case, MC, she would be connecting to the wireless okay, just not able to do anything, right? The distinction being has she got connectivity to the access point, but not beyond or is she unable to connect to the AP?

What say, CL?
posted by The Bellman at 9:47 AM on June 27, 2006

Response by poster: I wish it were that. But the little popup window that says "connected to X" no longer appears.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:52 AM on June 27, 2006

They have all simultaneously wisened up to your stealing ways (sshh, I've done it too) and blocked your MAC address?

Unlikely I know (unless they're all run by the same person?).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:57 AM on June 27, 2006

Course, you could just get your own ISP (in answer to the very last question).

From your experience, it seems the issue is entirely on the provider (I.E. neighbors) side of the equation. Maybe, as stated above, the unlikely has occurred and they all have realized someone is piggybacking and decided to take action.
posted by Atreides at 10:03 AM on June 27, 2006

I had the same problem at my own home. There was a thread here about two weeks ago that addressed connectivity that had a suggestion about deleting your .dat files. (I am new to this community and my ability to find the thread is lacking.) I did not try the suggestion as I simply plugged in because the laptop is close enough to do that and I am lazy that way.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:14 AM on June 27, 2006

ClarissaWAM has a point. have you tried other free access points? if you only have trouble in your building, maybe somebody got tired of the leeching. then, it may be time to get your own connection
posted by matteo at 10:14 AM on June 27, 2006

Much as I hate to invoke a conspiracy when a cockup is possible, this sounds like a conspiracy to me. I'm betting that one of your neighbors wised up, figured out what to do about you, then went round and fixed up the others.

Now they're all sharing pr0n you can't see :)
posted by flabdablet at 10:14 AM on June 27, 2006

deleting your .dat files

I haven't been using Windows in a while, but careful with .dat files
posted by matteo at 10:15 AM on June 27, 2006

Response by poster: Maybe, as stated above, the unlikely has occurred and they all have realized someone is piggybacking and decided to take action.

But if this were the case, wouldn't the networks show up as "secured"?
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:25 AM on June 27, 2006

They might not be secured; they might simply be blocking your MAC address. Which would result in you getting no responses of any kind to packets you send out, which would be indistinguishable at your end from a busted transmitter or receiver on your laptop.
posted by flabdablet at 10:36 AM on June 27, 2006

Response by poster: Also, I can't find the thread that JohnnyGunn mentioned. I'm feeling especially clueless today!
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:41 AM on June 27, 2006

Sorry, that should read "busted transmitter" not "busted transmitter or receiver". If that's all they've done, you should still be able to see all their traffic - install Ethereal, and run a packet trace on your wireless interface in Promiscuous mode. If you can see your neighbors' machines talking to each other, but they never respond to yours, MAC filtering is what's likely going on.
posted by flabdablet at 10:43 AM on June 27, 2006

Likely no conspirarcy.

Back in the day, you tried connecting to all of them and they worked.

But you used the strongest connection. Meanwhile #2 and #3 installed MAC authentication (either blocking or white listing their clients).

And the #1 just did so - noticing perhaps some speed slowdown (with or without a tech doing the work for them.)
posted by filmgeek at 12:45 PM on June 27, 2006

Let us know what you figured out. I'm with the others who figure that if it works at other places then the neighbors decided not to continue subsidizing you against their wishes.
posted by JamesMessick at 2:33 PM on June 27, 2006

Response by poster: Not that I don't deserve it, but I just find it hard to believe my disparate neighbors ganged together. It would have had to be simultaneous too, because I logged onto at least two different networks the day before.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:50 PM on June 27, 2006

It's sad, but the fact is, at least in my experience, that more and more people are securing their WiFi. Ihad my laptop over at a friends and could get onto two or three open routers from his living room. A month later I couldn't get a decent signal on anything.

My router is open, but if I lived in an apartment it might not be. I'd be happy to share with neighbors if they ask, but if they ran torrents 24/7 I'd shut it down.
posted by JamesMessick at 4:20 PM on June 27, 2006

Response by poster: So it seems that sometimes, when things fuck up for no apparent reason, they also fix themselves for no apparent reason. Whew!

This morning, after two netless days, my connections are all back and working fine. (You guys had me half convinced with your conspiracy-of-neighbors theory and I was starting to throw paranoid looks over my shoulder in the lobby.)
But I would be curious, if anyone ever looks at this thread again, for theories as to what happened. Clues are: I started being able to connect to low signals from networks I'd never seen before, though I couldn't load any web pages. I seemed to see a lot of volatility - networks appearing and disappearing - though I couldn't tell if that was really happening or just my hardware. Then, this morning, there seem to be very few networks online, but I'm connecting fine to my regular ones.

(Also, just FYI, this experience has convinced me that yes, it's time to start paying for my own connection but when I get one, I'm definitely leaving it open for anyone who wants to use it.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:16 AM on June 28, 2006

Congrats, nothing motivates spending like an addiction going unfed.
posted by Atreides at 4:57 AM on June 28, 2006

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