When I was stuck in Boston’s Logan International Airport for a few hours waiting for a flight, I decided I ought to get some work done; I popped open my laptop to see if I could spot a free network. Signed onto “loganwifi” and got a page full of ads asking me to pay for access via Boingo Wireless. At $10/mo ($22/mo after the first 3) and 100,000 access points, I decided I might give it a whirl and plopped down my card. Things were smooth, but then it wanted me to download a Windows program. Ruh-roh. (I’m just connecting to wifi! Why do I need another resident program?) So I go ahead and install it and run it. It thinks for two minutes about logging in and then gives me a “999 Network Error” and a phone number for support. Here’s where things get good.

I connected with support relatively quickly, and the guy sounded educated and confident in his answers, but I was shocked at the things he said:

“Are you recharging right now? Yes? Then I’d recommend you unplug and move a few feet away. I know the signal strength says 77%, but that really doesn’t mean much. Most people I talk with who are having connection issues are recharging, you know.”

“Did you download the program with Firefox? Firefox sometimes has an issue with these wireless networks and the installed program might be corrupted, which could be causing the ‘999 Network Error’. Try downloading the program again with IE.”

“Okay, just go to Boingo and log in again…” (I log in and the website refreshes for several minutes saying “Now Loading Account Information” and then gave up.)

“Oh, you’re using a Core 2 processor with Boingo? You know, that just doesn’t work, the signal bounces back and forth between the two processors and so some locations you just can’t connect.”

I started yelling at him and eventually got a refund. [smacks head]

It was amazing how confident this guy was. I probably wouldn’t have known how nuts this guy was if I wasnt’ a computer scientist myself.

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