Mixed Signals

Richard here.

In 2014, the music parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic recorded a song called “First World Problems” (in the style of the band The Pixies) which includes such “complaints” as “Can’t remember which car I drove to the mall,” “I had to buy something I didn’t even need just so I could qualify for free shipping on Amazon,” and “I’m pretty sure the cookies in this airport lounge ain’t gluten free,” but one is, “My house is so big I can’t get WiFi in the kitchen.” In the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty minor gripe but when you have a home office, even what would be considered a smallish house may be too big for a WiFi signal to carry throughout, especially if we locate our office in the basement or the attic—or some room far distant from where the WiFi router is. And even if you can get a WiFi signal, it may not be strong enough for what you need to send and receive. For example, if you work with large graphic files or video, you’ll need as strong a signal as you can get or you’ll waste a lot of time just transferring files back and forth. After 45 minutes, you want to be more than 1% completed.

Cellphone signals can be more problematic, since the house may not be the entire problem. When I bought a house in 2005, I had neglected to check to see how strong a signal I got inside the house, which was a serious oversight as I had planned to use my cellphone as my business (and in fact only) phone and forgo a landline. As it turned out, there was absolutely no signal in the basement where I set up the office, and even upstairs, it was dodgy at the best of times. If the phone rang, I would have to run upstairs to answer it, and very often calls dropped. (At one point, in great frustration, I hurled the phone down a set of wooden stairs with Nolan Ryan-like velocity and it was actually very satisfying to watch it fly apart.) I went through three different providers with no appreciable improvement, so I had to bite the bullet and get a landline installed.

Eventually, they erected more cell towers near my neighborhood and by the time I got an iPhone I had somewhat improved reception. I eventually got a SkypeOut number which was more economical than a landline—and works great. I still only use the cellphone for emergencies, and then I use the Skype app more often than not.

Again, first world problems, but serious ones if we’re trying to run a business. Still, as the song goes, “Some idiot just called me up on the phone—what!? Don’t they know how to text? OMG!”