Mac: How to find WiFi

I’m still in California visiting my parents, trying to help them get back on their feet after my Mom’s illness. They’re getting up in age and my brother and I are trying to figure out a better living arrangement for them. Man, getting old really sucks.

One of my challenges while out here is that my parents are completely computer illiterate. I bought them a Compaq desktop ages ago, loaded up with Windows 98. It still works, except now it’s only use is for rousing games of Solitaire. I also bought them an Epson inkjet printer, though my Mom determined that the paper feed in the top was better suited to hold her incoming snail mail and magazines. Oh well.

What this means is that they obviously don’t have any Internet connectivity, a serious shortcoming for me. I am trying to look up healthcare provider information and details on senior communities in their area. I’ve long since bailed out on any kind of dial-up service as a backup and I no longer have a phone that can become a data modem for me so I am at the whims of any WiFi I can get my hands on.

While it's possible to use the AirPort icon to find open WiFi points you constantly have to pull down the menu to see them. Then I came across coconutWiFi 2.0, a simple menu bar utility that displays a counter of all the WiFi spots around you.

Though I was able to get WiFi at my brother's home, I couldn't see any at my parents. Equipped with coconutWiFi I wandered around in the backyard of my parents home and quickly found that several folks were kind enough to leave their Linksys routers wide open. 

Of course I looked like a complete idiot walking around with a bright white MacBook held up at shoulder height trying to locate a signal, but at least I was able to get a connection! coconutWiFi is not perfect - it can't actually make the connection - for that you have to switch back to the AirPort menu. It does however make finding a network much easier.


William said...

iStumbler is great for WiFi and bluetooth.

David Alison said...

@William: Thanks for the tip. Playing with it now. Looks good.

Anonymous said...

hold down 'alt' when clicking on the airport menu, you can see more information!

Anonymous said...

Don't feel like an idiot walking around with a bright white Macbook looking for a signal. Back when my wife was in the hospital in Philadelphia she could get a signal from someone's open linksys router in a dorm across the street from her hospital room, but in other parts of the hospital you couldn't. So when I'd visit I'd go down to the parking structure where you could get a signal if you stood in this one corner of the parking structure.

So if you were driving into the parking structure of this big city hospital back in March of last year, you'd occasionally see this guy standing in the corner of the parking structure by the elevators with a bright white Macbook typing away while taxis, buses, and traffic went by below.

Also you will find that the Macbook has about the most tenacious wireless 'grabbing' of any computer I've used. I can get wireless where other computers cannot; like this one hotel I stayed at in NJ where others with Dells had to go out into the lobby I was able to happily access the hotel's wifi from the conference room I was working.

Only reason I'm posting anonymous is because I don't have any of the other ID's you have on your blog. I'm known on the Mac Forums as walkerj. ;)

David Alison said...

@walkerj: Thanks man - I always love the wandering WiFi stories. I agree, the MacBook does seem to get a better signal than my older Dell and HP laptops - at least it seems it does.

Amir said...

Hey David - I downloaded this really cool piece of software called WeFi. it's much nicer than the airport, plus it connects automatically to hotspots and checks whether they have internet on them (and not all the dead ones, which make you happy for a second and then all bummed again when you realized you ran into a wall ;). they also have wifi maps on their site (, so it can help you see where to look.

David Alison said...

@Amir: Interesting find. I had never heard of them before. Thanks!

jango74 said...

Good to see you're still enjoying using your Mac.
Would you mind if I translated your posts(related to mac) into other language? Actually there're some guys in Korea who enjoy your posts. They'd be happy to see your blog in Korean.

David Alison said...

@Jango74: Sounds interesting. Feel free to drop me a line to chat about it. I can be reached at dralison at gmail.