Introduction: Urban Survival 101: Mobile Computing on the Fringe

Picture of Urban Survival 101: Mobile Computing on the Fringe

On the road with little but a laptop an a video camera, you too can maximize your productivity in the field with focus, dedication and a highly adaptive outlook. Today, we're going to learn how to tap into troublesome, external power outlets with a laptop and how to connect to existing wireless networks nearby. Unless we're overtaken by tusken raiders or something, but that's rare.

Step 1: Quit Carrying That Laptop! Let the R2 Deal With It.

Picture of Quit Carrying That Laptop! Let the R2 Deal With It.

Yeah, it's a full-sized hand truck and it's all done up like it's something. Hey, with everything strapped on, who's going to steal it? I mean, what are they going to do, run down the street with a loaded handtruck? Besides, it can easily be disguised and it may even deflect bullets! That's why I highly recommend it for both home and the office.

Check out the slideshow:

Pimp My Hand Truck

Step 2: Line It Up

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When setting up your laptop outdoors or anywhere you want to be able to hide it, run your cables along the grooves of the walls to limit their visibility. In this case, the electrical outlet is in the next (and less comfortable) booth in this study shelter at a certain, unnamed school.

Step 3: Locked Out!

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Oh no! They've locked up the outlets! How is the public supposed to use the power at their own schools? Is there no spirit of good left in this accursed land?

Step 4: Not Really

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Good thing I checked. All I had to do was use one of the prongs from my adapter as leverage and lift the lid just like a hot stove.

Step 5: Cover It But Don't Smother It

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Cover any obvious cables that you can with a backpack or jacket, but remember, these things get hot. Try to block your adapters without covering them. Give things room to breathe and straighten your cables where you can. And no knots.

Step 6: Blunt Sign!

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Either a bantha passed by here, or we have blunt sign the likes of which even Tupac has never see.

Step 7: Pull Inward

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Clean, organize and otherwise "tighten up" your station and get to drekklatin'.

Step 8: Find a Network and Pray Like a Mother

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"Oh hoary hoast of the wireless nether realms, I call on you to do my bidding! Please. Whenever you're ready."

When you're done with that, click on your wireless network adapter icon on the lower right of your taskbar (the little, single computer) If it's not there or it's "X'd" out, I'm not talking to you. You need to become a professor and get your wireless hardware working before you can fly. Traveling through cyberspace ain't like dusting crops, boy!

So, anyway, click on the computer icon in the bottom right of your screen and walk through the steps along with the pictures below.

Step 9: What to Do?

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Check out the trailers for my underground, smash-hit movies!

Then rejoice at the joy you've found.

Step 10: Wait! What If I Can't Find a Signal?

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Well, go somewhere else. It's called mobile computing for a reason. Coffeeshops have free wireless cellphone stores have networks coming out of their windows, anywhere they make copies, they run wireless networks, schools, dorms, offices... lots of networks to dig through. Your task is to balance battery usage with strategic productivity, proximity to power and to dance around the migratory patterns of tusken raiders. They move single-file, you know. Covers their tracks.

Step 11: There's One Now!

Picture of There's One Now!

They must have smelled my water. I gotta go.


killerjackalope (author)2008-06-24

I do it a bit aswell, mainly because they don't use their internet much... It's still not a great idea, a business wont reall notice the difference but a home user will see the difference immediately...

febble (author)killerjackalope2011-10-29

Of course if you are in the UK then you only have to worry about the Misuse of Computers Act or the Telecommunications act - if you are using it without the explict permission of the owner

killerjackalope (author)2008-06-23

Nice instructable, as an addition to the list both Starbucks and McDonalds now offer free wireless, also if you see a certain sideways 8 symbol chalked on someone's gate that usually indicates an open network, try to avoid using residential networks, they're slower and it's rude... Another quick thing is that there are power adapters on trains, usually by the doors and toilets, these are usually used for cleaning purposes but if you aren't a nuisance a conductor usually wont annoy you... An external or homebuilt antenna can also be a big boon to a wireless laptop user, they make it way easier to find networks, also check that your transmission power is up all the way, it barely affects battery usage but makes a big difference to networking... An extra battery pack is also a great idea, it's just nice to know you have a backup in case of emergency or lack of power, use them alternately to make sure the packs stay good...

Johenix (author)killerjackalope2011-08-23

Add Burger King, LeeAnn Chin, Cariboo Coffee and Barnes & Noble Books to the list. Wendy's and Taco Bell might be worth a look too.

I'm not sure about the "sideways 8" symbol, but check out this link.
(It also links to the corresponding Wikipedia article from that page.)

Have fun!

Depends where you are in the world then... Good little site, the symbols one...

Starbucks and McDonalds now offer free wireless..

Starbucks' WiFi is "free" with the purchase of a coffee =o

Really, I logged on once and have it saved as a network profile, granted it varies buck's to buck's

granted it varies buck's to buck's

Hmm, probably. Maybe it's just in the US? I dunno, I only saw it once, so it could definitely vary. But I don't buy coffee (or anything) from Starbuck's anyway. =P

The funny thing is I get coffee from starbucks alot and have bought it three times... Pick the moment and the right person, nothing illegal, just good old fashioned being nice... But some of them change the code on a weekly rota, one each day, others generate one and keep it, some do change it about alot...

keastes (author)killerjackalope2008-07-03

i wanna know where do y'all live starbucks down here (Albuquerque NM) t-mobile has a contract with all of the starbucks and its 10 bucks a day, oh well at least the city provides free wifi at the libraries.

killerjackalope (author)keastes2008-07-03

I live in Northern Ireland, see UK...

ThirdEye4103 (author)2010-09-12

hey a good name, you say your dads a Liar. I mean Lawyer!! so do me a favor, Have him find a law that says you HAVE to pay federal income tax. BECAUSE THERE ISNT! seriously, i put a 50,000$ reward in the newspaper for someone to find that law for me, and not one person ended up calling back.

GaSouthpaw (author)2008-06-27

So what you're actually showing us how to do is steal (power, wireless service) from whichever municipality or property we happen to be squatting in?

HarveyDanger (author)GaSouthpaw2008-06-27

It ain't illegal unless the network is secure.

A good name (author)HarveyDanger2008-07-27

It's illegal to access someone's wireless network. Federally. Sure, you probably won't get arrested since the chances of the cops actually finding you are slim, but the power is even worse, since the people who own the power socket end up paying. This Instructable is illegal.

HarveyDanger (author)A good name2008-07-28

Do you have a reference for this? I'd like to see it.

A good name (author)HarveyDanger2008-07-28

Meh, my dad's a lawyer. It's stealing unless it's specified as a "public access network" If it's "Unprotected" It's illegal.

lukeyj15 (author)A good name2010-05-22

Well you could compare it to someone's house. If it's unlocked, you can still be arrested for entering. But if it's a public place, a coffee shop for example, you can't...

joseph_trout (author)A good name2008-11-16

Actually its not even illegal to use a secured network. As long as they are not using wpa. At that point to get the password for the network you have to send a signal to the router which is illegal.

HarveyDanger (author)A good name2008-07-28

Interesting. I shall look into this further!

static (author)HarveyDanger2010-05-11

Comments here are approaching 2 years old, and a lot has occurred in that time. Some time spent with using Google will reveal that using even an unsecured wifi  without express permission signal may be illegal. State and local laws may vary. Personally may network is left open, and sharing my internet connection doesn't violate my ISP TOS, if you are in range you are welcome to use it. Up to the point your use degrades my use. Meaning no hours of viewing videos or large file downloads.

GaSouthpaw (author)HarveyDanger2008-06-28

Consider this- say your house has a nice yard, but with no fence around it, and someone decides to camp on your lawn. You'd consider that trespassing, right? It's the same principle. And plugging into a power outlet is illegal in most every city- which is why the thing was locked and the creator of this how-to showed you how to break into the outlet cover and set his coat on top of the power cord. That's also stealing. We'll just have to agree to disagree.

HarveyDanger (author)GaSouthpaw2008-06-28

Well, I don't know about Georgia, but up here the law is that if someone doesn't take the time to educate themselves and secure their wireless network, then it isn't illegal. The computer "asks" to use a wireless network when it connects. If it isn't refused, then it's perfectly all right in the eyes of the law. It's inconvenient, yeah. I'd sure as hell (politely) ask whoever was accessing my internet to get off. At that point, whether or not it's illegal, I don't know, since the owner of the network has explicitly stated that they don't want you on there. Seriously. though. if people are too lazy to just follow instructions on securing a wireless network, then they have no right to complain. Actually, I think a better analogy would be leaving your car parked somewhere shady and keeping it unlocked, and finding out that someone took a joyride. Also, the thing wasn't locked, just closed. He didn't break into anything, he only opened it (how would someone break into a locked panel with just a prong from a power cable?).

pork_hunt (author)HarveyDanger2008-09-12

The ignition key is the drivers "permission" to operate the vehicle. No key, no permission...

HarveyDanger (author)pork_hunt2008-09-12

Well then assume you left the key in the car, too. =P That'd still be the same as leaving your network unprotected. It's illegal, but it's your own damn fault.

Also, I've searched, and there's no Federal law against using unprotected hotspots. There are, however, laws in several states, and in NY people can actually be fined for not securing their own network. I suggest looking up the laws in your own before hopping on to an unsecured network, but 99% of the time nobody will give a damn either way if all you're doing is surfing the internet.

mjarthur (author)HarveyDanger2008-09-15

i set up my wireless net to be open so my neighbors can use it, if someday someone is using too much of my bandwidth i might put a password on it, but for now its fine

bwpatton1 (author)mjarthur2009-02-18

The only problem with this is if your neighbors do something illegal on your internet connection than you get arrested.

cgel1015 (author)HarveyDanger2008-07-17

You mean, it "is not" illegal?

static (author)2010-05-11

Interesting, it never occurred to me to take note of 110 VAC receptacle that may be available for my use. Then again whenever I'm motor vehicle mobile/portable. I have plenty of electrical power available. As long as one isn't using an unwieldy wifi antenna, it would be hard for someone to guess if you are indeed piggybacking someones internet connection.

A good name (author)2009-08-26

It's next to your "a" key Octavian :P

Rogue Agent (author)2009-01-11

How is this a "Winner"? Not only is it poorly done, it encourages stealing. Grey legalities of wireless aside, bypassing a lock to use a power outlet is stealing. No grey area there.

octavian234 (author)Rogue Agent2009-08-25


You can't like own electricity, maaaaan...electricity is a living thing, maaaaaan

vitruvian8807 (author)2008-10-27

Very cool instructable +fav and 5 stars. However, I just use my Windows Mobile Device for all this.

resonanteye (author)2008-07-14

I liked the movie stuff. I have lived in the cities (about ten different ones last count) for 20 years, and the different flavor of "kook" (I'd call them "local harbingers of capitalism") are what make each city really have its own .personality, now that most places arre just hunks of crappy condos/apt buildings/offices...every city has its own feeling, and the homeless locals are the best way to find the soul of a city. I'd love to see these done about places besides berkeley. capitol hill in seattle, downtown portland, center city/south street in philly, the quarter in New orleans...every city has its free zone

blacknkhak (author)2008-07-14

money may not be a reason for this directors work buuuut... maybe a documentary of american street life would fit a broader audience than drunks and kooks. There is a reason general audience (G rated) movies make so much more money than the r rated stuff. think "family viewing". Public broadcast stations will air this type of work if it is deemed socially relevant. I think it is. the addition of a narrative and linear plot components would make this a genre. people would take it more seriously and it would get the respect it deserves.

hondagofast (author)2008-06-23

I once made a map of all the working power outlets in my town and all the safe wireless networks. Where the hell did I put it. The battery on my laptop last 2:15 with the screen brightness all the way down and a maximum of 50% processor usage. And it's a 366MHz Pentium II. Oh my wonderful IBM ThinkPad.

keastes (author)hondagofast2008-07-10

hmm anyone here use google earth? this would make a nice layer.

Labot2001 (author)hondagofast2008-06-23

I once made a map of all the working power outlets in my town and all the safe wireless networks.

That, sir, is extremely cool.

hondagofast (author)Labot20012008-06-23

I know, and it reflects my personality. ;] It's a bit outdated though.

mrmaoz (author)2008-07-06

Nice instructable. Go Cal Bears!!!!

lordofthedonuts (author)2008-06-23

very good Instructable, I love this urban survival series. But what's the point of your video I can't understand, is it simply to make fun of homeless people ?

Sorry for the delay. This type of question requires a thoughtful response. No, I'm not making fun of "the" homeless. I've been outdoors most of my life. These are my family and I'm doing things to make the movies help homeless people. But, then again, maybe I am. Certainly not with a hateful or condescending approach --- no more than I one would tease a little brother. I'm trying to make it all something that's not so scary and introduces the "home free" as people who aren't necessarily going to launch at you as you walk by. It's supposed to be a sort of valentine to Berkeley's Telegraph Ave. community --- the one we know is there when nobody else is looking.

I've never heard the term "home free" but I think it is brilliant! It is a clear and simple way to illustrate the choice in the matter. Living home free is a choice -- one that a society of freedom affords. It doesn't mean those of us who have made contrary choices must support the home free with the fruits of our choices. We simply must coexist. You don't feel pity for someones choices. The awkwardness comes when choices are mistaken for happenstance, misfortune, or oppression.

da_punx (author)2008-06-26

This is the best instructable yet! For the next Lamo out there

aznm1ke31 (author)2008-06-24

Is this on the UC Berkeley campus? It looks familiar

dudeguy1234 (author)aznm1ke312008-06-26

his movies say "My big fat berkeley homeless movie" so I assume so

tech_sponge61 (author)2008-06-23

hmm....looks good I would also recommend a back up power pack...I have one for my laptop and mp3 player. Its made by black and decker...well mine is any ways....I dont know if you mentioned something like this in your instructable I only skimmed it

thats the link for it if you wanna take a look at me about 3 and a half hours on my laptop if its really low on power...

jongscx (author)2008-06-23

...they march in line... to hide their numbers...

About This Instructable




Bio: I left home at 14 and hitchhiked cross country for years, but I turned back, started going to school and became that cool guy I ... More »
More by johnnyallenshaw:Urban Survival 101: Journal to Save Your LifeUrban Survival 101: Mobile Computing on the FringeUrban Survival 101: How to Sleep in a Garage
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