December 29th, 2011 at 6:57 pm by Dr. Drang
Let me start by apologizing for the title of this post. If you were searching for help with balky hotel wifi and wound up here through some horrible SEO failure, I can assure you you won’t find anything useful in what follows. It’s more a post about the lack of hotel wifi help.
Last night I checked into a Fairfield Inn in Baltimore. The desk clerk handwrote a wifi access code on the little envelope the key was in, and when I got myself settled in the room, I opened my MacBook Air and tried to connect.
The first problem had to do with the form of the code. It was written on the envelope like this: BBG 1234. The letters were upper case and there was a space between the three letters and the four numbers. Was I supposed to type the space? Were the letters supposed to be all caps, or did the desk clerk just write them that way? Did the case matter? I should have looked at it and asked before going up to my room.
I started by entering the code exactly as written: upper case with a space. The wifi sign-in page was “sponsored” by Google Music, and after I entered the code it played a little video ad that I couldn’t interrupt until the first 15 seconds had played. It was an ad about how music “used to be” and had images of vinyl records and reel-to-reel tape players. Because it was Google, I wondered if they’d picked up who I was through a browser cookie and were targeting the ad to someone old enough to know what a reel-to-reel was.1 Seemed creepy.
Anyway,2 when the 15 seconds was up I clicked on the Skip Ad link and was taken to a page with a big Connect button. I clicked on it and watched the URL field in the toolbar cycle through three or four addresses before finally settling on…the page asking me to enter the access code.
So I tried it again without the space, waited through the first 15 seconds of the Google Music ad, and clicked Connect again. Same result. Then I tried it with lower case and a space, then lower case and no space. Fifteen seconds of a Google Music video ad every time. Back to the sign-in page every time.
There was a support phone number at the bottom of the sign-in page. I got a beverage ready, took a deep breath, and called. After establishing who and where I was, the tech began asking me questions. It didn’t start out well.
Tech: What version of Internet Explorer are you using?
Drang: I’m not using Internet Explorer, I’m using Safari on a Macintosh.
Let me interrupt here to suggest that her initial supposition might not have been as goofy as it sounds. I tweeted about this last night and got a couple of replies agreeing with my initial impression that this was a pretty anachronistic question. But after a night’s sleep I’m beginning to think otherwise. Maybe people who need help connecting to wifi are still disproportionately IE users.
Tech: I’m sorry. What version of Mac are you using?
Drang: [Confused] What version of Mac…?
Tech: Are you on like Leopard or Tiger?
Drang: Oh. I’m running Lion.
I doubt you’ll believe this, but I wasn’t faking confusion just to be a dick. I know, it is just like me to do something like that, but I wasn’t—honest. I really was momentarily confused, possibly because I was still thinking about the IE question.
She had me go through the sign-in sequence, and it went just as it had before. I made the mistake of mentioning that I saw a few addresses fly past in the URL field, indicating that I was being redirecting from place to place before ending back on the sign-in page. This took us on a long and fruitless digression in which she kept asking me what was on these pages I was going to, and I kept telling her that no pages appeared, just fleeting URLs. It took a while to convince her I wasn’t clicking on links labeled Redirect on several intermediate pages.
Eventually, she gave up.
Tech: Can you give me your wifi address?
Drang: [Confused again] You mean the name of the access point?
Tech: No. The wifi address of your computer. Apple used to call it [something I don’t remember], but now they call it the wifi address.
I was a little surprised her script didn’t include directions for how to find it, but I opened the Network System Preference, clicked the Advanced button, and found what was, indeed, labeled Wi-Fi Address. It’s the MAC identifier for the internal AirPort hardware.
Within a minute I had access. She had gone into some settings and given my MAC privileges that allowed it to connect without signing on. No need to see that Google Music ad again. For all my suspicions about her competence, the tech came through in the end and got me connected. I assume the MAC address trick is either their last resort or their way to quickly get rid of a customer who’s starting to sound exasperated.
Now that I think of it, maybe there is something useful about this post. If you have trouble getting a wifi connection in a hotel and need to call tech support, sound exasperated and have your MAC address ready.