Wireless doesn’t work sometimes

I was giving a PowerPoint presentation in the new Medical Education Center that has been built between our teaching hospital and local university. I walk into a seminar room which is equipped with a huge NEC flat screen on the wall, a Dell computer, wireless keyboard and mouse, microscope projector and Xray light box. Nice room, “high tech”. I plug my thumb drive, containing my presentation file into the computer.

I notice that the wireless mouse doesn’t work. OK, I can deal with the keyboard, so I open my presentation using the keyboard. Since I am fifteen minutes early, I decide to call the help desk and tell them that the mouse doesn’t work (maybe it needs a new battery…)

There is no phone in the room. So, anyone needing help either must leave the room to find a phone, or use a cell phone. I call the help desk on my cell, and they say they’ll send someone over.

Now, recall that even though the mouse didn’t work, I could go ahead with my presentation. The rest of the group files in. MDs, Ph.Ds., IS people.

All of a sudden the screen goes haywire. Slides start changing. A web browser starts up. Things start typing. It is as if a ghost has entered the computer. It turns out that the rooms are subject to interference from adjacent rooms to the side, above and below.

Ten minutes into my presentation, I abandon the slides and just use the handouts. The tech person arrives, and spends 15 minutes trying to reset the mouse and keyboard to an unused channel that isn’t being used by an adjacent room. He finally pronounces it fixed. Says this happens “all the time”. He leaves.

I attempt once more to find my slide in the middle of the pack, and almost immediately the thing goes nuts again. Other members of the group around the table start offering suggestions (we’re mostly guys….of course…we want to fix things). “It should work”. “We never saw this before.” I stick to the handouts, but everyone is kind of disappointed.

As part of my remarks I mention that we had tried a wireless version of the DLink I-2-Eye videoconferencing unit and had abandoned it after finding that it was unreliable. “Why?” they wanted to know. “Couldn’t you find a solution from the vendor?” “Did you talk to their engineering staff?”

Actually I wasn’t sure where the problem lay. We actually swapped out the unit twice, and all connected hardware…routers and cable modems. However, we never got it to work, in the three locations that we tested in. It may not have been the I-2-Eye unit but the point I made to the group was that this particular problem was outside the scope of my inquiry at the time. We replaced the units with wired versions which worked just fine.

Sometimes you have to cut your technological losses and just get on with it.

And as for these high tech rooms, it is an interesting problem. But they ought to get wires.

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