The Case Of The Wireless Thief

June 15th, 2007

Dear Mum,

Until recently, the other apartment on my floor was occupied by a Cypriot couple. I never met the guy, and I only spoke to the girl two or three times over the winter. She was stunningly beautiful, and the first time I bumped into her in the lift, I immediately fell hopelessly, head-over-heels in love. But as I assumed her to feel that way about her partner rather than me, I thought no more of it.

I heard them having a very big row one night. Lots of shouting accompanied by some face-slapping. A couple of days later, the guy moved out. Excellent!

I spoke to her several times over the next two or three weeks. Lovely girl. Woman. I’m hopeless with ages but at a rough guess, over 20 but under 40. Gorgeous and intelligent. A perfect match for me!

I have no reason to suppose that she thought of me as anything other than the guy who lives across the hallway, but given enough time and opportunity, I’m confident that I can work my magic on just about anybody. But just as I was putting the finishing touches to my subtle masterplan of how I was going to turn her into putty in my hands  –  she moved out too!

That was at the beginning of May. I remember it well. I was inconsolable for several minutes!

The apartment’s been empty since then. But some new neighbours moved in last weekend. Not sure what nationality they are, but I think they’re just here on holiday as they have a hire car parked outside.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

A lot of travellers take their lap-tops with them these days. Now that everything has wireless capability, it’s very easy to hook up to someone else’s broadband connection, unless it’s locked with a code, which a lot of them aren’t. You have to be quite close to the signal to achieve this, but you can usually find something.

Larnaca Municipality actually provides a free broadband signal for tourists, which can be picked up anywhere on the seafront. Very forward-thinking of them.

But the internet in Cyprus is in its infancy. It’s where the UK was five or six years ago. Connection speeds are very slow, and unreliable a lot of the time. My connection is supposed to be 1Mb, but I rarely achieve download speeds greater than about 500k. It’s very frustrating.

So every k counts here. And the last thing you want is somebody stealing part of your bandwidth, thereby slowing down your connection speed, which is what I suspect has been happening to me recently.

My modem has four lights on it. Three green and one red. It’s very pretty. No need to concern yourself with the three green ones, but the fourth light is for the wireless connection, for which a small antenna protrudes from the modem, but which I don’t use. This light is permanently red.

Earlier in the week, I noticed that the red light was permanently flashing some of the time instead of permanently on. And I also noticed that as soon as my neighbours went out, the light stopped flashing! So it occurred to me that maybe some naughty little neighbour was hooking up to my broadband signal.

The proof of any theory lies in prediction and outcome. So I monitored it on Wednesday, and the light stayed red until I heard movement in the apartment opposite, at which point it started to flash. It stopped flashing when they went out for the day, and started again when they returned.

That was good enough for me. It was clear that a flashing red light indicated that someone was using a wireless connection to steal my broadband signal, and it was also clear that it was my new neighbour, a big surly bloke who you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. So being a natural-born coward, confrontation was out of the question. No proof anyway. Just suspicion.

The dawn of yesterday morning brought a determination within me to put a stop to this dastardly crime.

Plan A

My first attempt was to investigate the wireless set-up procedure on my computer and see if I could lock the signal. I quickly found out how to do it, but was thwarted half way through the procedure for technical reasons. Not important what.

Plan B

Hmmm. I thought that would be easy. Have to try something else. I know! Unscrew the aerial. It won’t work without an aerial.

But the aerial didn’t unscrew. I would have had to take the modem apart to get at the fixing, and I didn’t want to risk leaving myself without a useable modem. That would have defeated the whole object of the exercise, and given you a bit more to laugh at me about!

Plan C

Attempt number three was a bit Heath Robinson, and totally lacking in any technical know-how whatsoever  –  I wrapped some silver foil round the aerial. I thought it might obscure or confuse the signal. No idea where that idea came from! It was a silly idea. It didn’t work. Light still flashing red. You can laugh at that one. It’s ok.

In spite of the fact that if I was in his shoes, I’d probably have been doing exactly what he was doing, and in spite of the fact that the effect on my connection speed was actually pretty negligible, I wasn’t going to let this one go. There was a principle at stake here. And the more I was thwarted, the more determined I became. If ever a cunning plan was needed, it was now. I was starting to take this personally. But I was also running out of ideas.

I looked round the apartment for inspiration. My eyes stopped at the microwave oven.

Plan D

I don’t use microwave ovens. I refuse to. Evil things. I could tell you why, but it’s not pertinent at this juncture. Unfortunately, it came with the apartment, so I can’t lob it over the balcony. But maybe I could lob it at my new neighbour! That might get the message across!

Or failing that, there was always Plan E…

Plan E

Microwave signals are part of the radio spectrum. I remember that we used a microwave link once on a radio station to link the output signal from the studio to the main transmitter. The casing of a microwave oven is surely designed not to allow microwaves to escape, otherwise we’d all cook ourselves! So presumably the casing wouldn’t allow other radio signals to escape either. Worth a try! After all, it was just sitting there gathering dust.

So I parked the microwave cooker on the floor beside the computer and put the modem inside, with its still flashing red light, and closed the door, leaving just enough space for the cables.

After a few seconds, the flashing red light became a solid red light. Success!

And I heard a faint, muffled cry of “F**K IT!” from across the hallway…!

Enjoy the rest of your holiday!


©MPB 15/June/2007


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