By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 5/24/2006 4:32:33 PM ET 2006-05-24T20:32:33

A number of readers have observed one of the banes of a reviewer’s existences — items that are supposed to work but for some reason or another don’t. I’ve found it’s a common problem among items that rely on new wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

So, it was no surprise for me to get a question like this from Brian Hilson in Dallas:

I recently decided to pull the plug in my apartment and go wireless. I have noticed a few quirks to my new wireless system. I get the occasional drop where I need to disconnect and reconnect the devices, reset the router, power cycle the cable modem, or simply use the built in “repair” feature native to Windows to reconnect to the source.  My signal strength never falls below 98% as far as I can tell, but I still get the occasional signal drop. Are the high-gain antennas worth the money and do they actually help reduce signal drops?  If not, is there another route I should think about heading to prevent, or at least, reduce this from continuing?”

I have the same problem in a number of home networks that I use.  For no reason I can gather, the signal drops to zero and I lose the connection. Others using computers via wired Ethernet connections on the same network have no problems. This is definitely a Wi-Fi problem.

In my test lab, my computer is somewhat far away at the other side of the complex.  I get a good connection but it’s not always reliable.  I’ve added a high-gain Wi-Fi booster antenna which has helped the situation slightly, but I still get those annoying signal drops.

The connection always seems to be lost when I’m listening to music, trying to bid on eBay or when I’m on deadline. It never happens when I’m just reading a story on MSNBC.com.

I’ve tried other remedies, including swapping brands of wireless routers, and it’s taken me a long time to find a solution that cuts down on the problem. Nothing, however, solves it completely.

I’ve found that wireless repeaters and bridges, judicially placed, can almost eliminate the problem. Wireless repeaters, made by a number of different manufacturers, boost the Wi-Fi signal and reduce signal drop.

Your first choice should be a repeater made by the manufacturer of your wireless access point.  That will make everything a lot easier to configure.  Repeaters cost anywhere from $50 to $150 or more.

Walt of Tecumseh MI has something to say about what I wrote on Bluetooth standards

I take exception to Bluetooth being presented as “a wireless standard.” From my experience, Bluetooth is another technological “standard-less standard”.  My HP iPAQ supports Bluetooth but here’s the rub: I purchased Toshiba Bluetooth Headphone; only to find out they are not supported by HP.  I then had to purchase HP Bluetooth Headphones because of the proprietary HP Bluetooth audio protocol!  Oh, and the Toshiba Bluetooth Headphones that I then though I would use with my PC?  I have to be damn sure that the Bluetooth adapter supports the Toshiba Bluetooth audio protocol. What a joke when it comes to a “wireless standard”!’

I agree completely!  Standards are good only if they’re followed.  The problem is that many companies take a standard and add features.  In your case they added features which made headphones usable only with devices that recognize those extra standards.

It’s even worse with WI-Fi because some manufacturers adhere to current standards but add new features with no standards at all.  Most recently I’ve noticed many 802.111/b/g routers that boast much faster speeds using new technologies.  Those new technologies usually aren’t part of current standards.

Before you buy make sure what you’re buying will work with any and all devices you want to attach it to. 

Kevin in New Jersey wants to know about PDAs:

I am a Palm V user, and am thinking about switching to a Windows-based PDA/Smartphone.  I’m not too advanced on technical issues but get by.  Can you recommend a software fix or some other fix to merge my data into Outlook?  Also, I’m worried about system crashes on Windows.  My Palm has never crashed.  Is Windows 5.0 as reliable as Palm?”

A lot has changed since you purchased your Palm V, Kevin.  There have been many new models with lots of new features.  There also has been a general improvement in both Palms and Windows Mobile-based devices.

That said I would try both.  I like the Windows-based 6700 Smartphone sold by Verizon and Sprint and the SDA from T-Mobile.  You can also do some one-stop shopping when you check out Palm’s Treo 700 series Smartphones.  One comes with Windows Mobile 5.0 (700w from Verizon) and the other with the latest version of the Palm OS (700p from Sprint and Verizon). 

As for transferring data, there are some third-party solutions. But if your information is on your computer, the software that comes with Palm or Windows phones should be able to handle transfers during the initial synchronization process.

Finally, twinturbo3000 wants to know:

“What is a blog? How does it work?”

So, aside from the knowing that the term is actually a contraction -- short for the term Web-log -- I thought it best to ask MSNBC.com’s blog guru, Will Femia, to take a stab at explaining the answer:

On its surface, a blog is a personal Web site that is updated regularly in some cumulative chronological fashion.  More importantly, however, is the set of networking tools that go into the activity of blogging. 

From simple linking and reader comments to database pinging, trackbacks, tagging, blog search engines, meme trackers and contributing to blog carnivals, the networking tools are what help bloggers find each other whether for the purposes of sharing interests or debating issues. 

These tools are what have made blogging the phenomenon it has become.

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