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|| News Item: Posted 2000-05-30

Working Wireless
By Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP
When a puzzled NBA referee saw me with a PowerBook in my lap as well as all my camera gear and said "You'd better put that thing away (before Shaq steps on it)," I thought: "If you knew what I went through to get this here, you would realize that not even Shaq could keep me from using it."

A few weeks earlier, after I finished mounting my trusty AP NC2000 digital camera 180 feet above the rim in preparation for a Los Angeles Lakers NBA Playoff game at the new Staples center, I asked NBA photographer Andrew Bernstein, "At what point during the game can I get my disk?" His answer: "You can't go up there 'till after the game."

In the past (at The Forum, the old home of the Lakers) had been allowed to go up during half time and even earlier to get my disks. Now, apparently due to some rather close calls in other arenas involving items falling from the catwalk and almost killing people, making any sort of deadline was going to be impossible.

Or was it?

I started thinking about alternate ways to get my pictures down from there. I knew that, if I could connect my camera to a computer and network with another computer, I could still get my images. I quickly realized that stringing an ethernet cable from the catwalk to the floor was unrealistic. There was only one thing left to do. It was time to go to the AirPort.

No, not Los Angeles International Airport, but Apple's AirPort wireless networking system. Based on technology jointly developed with Lucent Technologies, the AirPort is an IEEE 802.11b-based wireless LAN operating at 2.4 GHz that allows computers to communicate at 11 Mbps. The system consists of the AirPort Base Station ($299) and an AirPort Card ($99) that gets installed inside the computer.

The Base Station, which looks quite a bit like 1950's era flying saucer, comes with a 56k modem and a 10Base T Ethernet port. Since the use of the AirPort Card requires an AirPort-compatible iBook, iMac, G4 desktop computer or newer G3 series PowerBook, I thought that I was out of luck again. All that I had to work with was my personal 292MHz G3 Powerbook and an old 1400cs PowerBook we had lying around.

Enter Lucent Technologies' (now Orinoco) Silver/Gold WaveLan PC Card ($189). The Type II PC Card, which slides into the PC Card slot of your laptop, is also an IEEE 802.11b-based wireless LAN and able to communicate with the AirPort Base Station at 11 Mbps. The WaveLan card is compatible with any PowerBook with a Type II PC Card slot and also works in most Windows machines. Also available is the Farallon SkyLINE Wireless 11 Mbps PC card ($199).

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP
So, now I've got the AirPort Base Station and the WaveLan PC Card. I still needed a way to take control of the remote computer, since the camera retains the images until they're downloaded via Kodak's Photoshop plug-in. I remembered that we used to remotely control computers at the Oscars to get images that were shot in the balcony into the editing trailer outside. The software used was Netopia's Timbuktu Pro ($150).

While Timbuktu has many uses including remote access, file transfer, voice intercom, collaboration and network management over a phone line or network, I needed it to take control over another computer.

Now that I had all the necessary components, I decided to take my new toys for a test drive in the bureau. The AirPort Base Station set-up was pretty straightforward. The AirPort software includes a Setup Assistant that walks you through the TCP/IP configuration process. For my application, all I had to do was give my G3 PowerBook an IP address and a subnet mask number. The WaveLan Card setup was also pretty simple and again I had to setup my TCP/IP with and IP address.

I installed Timbuktu Pro on both computers and I was ready to go. I connected my G3 to the AirPort Base Station via ethernet cable and inserted the WaveLan card into the 1400cs. In the Timbuktu software, I set the G3 to allow incoming access and in my 1400cs I typed in the IP address of the G3. I walked about ten feet away and clicked the Timbuktu "Control" button. The desktop of my G3 suddenly popped up on the 1400's screen. This put an immediate smile on my face.

Photo by
I then took a walk down to the other end of the bureau (about 100 feet away) and I still had complete control over a computer that I couldn't even see. Now I found myself giggling, but I realized that I still had a few more hurdles to get over.

Sure this thing works in a relatively tame environment from 100 feet away, but would it work in a huge place like the Staples Center from 180 feet above the court and 210 feet from where I shoot? Since Apple advertises that its AirPort system is only good up 150 feet, I had some serious doubts.

As I headed to Staples for the NBA Western Conference quarterfinals I couldn't help but think about all the things that could go wrong like, radio frequency interference, computer crashes and would the signal carry through a huge scoreboard that was between me and my remote computer? I arrived four hours before the game and headed up to the catwalk.

Looking directly over the basket, I mounted a 300 2.8 and an AP NC2000 digital camera along with LPA Design's Pocket Wizard (for remotely tripping the camera) to the rail. I then connected a SCSI cable from the camera to my G3 and an ethernet cable from my G3 to the AirPort Base Station. After doing a quick test to make sure that the system worked, I head down to the court for the moment of truth.

Standing on the empty court, I opened the 1400 and launched Timbuktu, took a deep breath and clicked "Control." Once again, to my absolute glee, the desktop of my G3 suddenly popped up on the 1400's screen.

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP
Once I stopped laughing, I ran a few tests. I fired off a few frames on the remote camera with my Pocket Wizard, remotely launched Kodak's viewer from within Photoshop in the G3, and sure enough my images appeared in the 1400.

I then selected some images and copied them to a folder on the G3's desktop. Using Timbuktu's file "Exchange" feature, I transferred the folder from the G3 to the 1400. It all worked! I still had concerns, though, about the large amount of radio frequency that would be flying around during game time.

As the game commenced, I eagerly anticipated the first time-out to be called so I could download my images. When the time-out came I grabbed my 1400 from behind me, woke it up, clicked "Control" in Timbuktu and, once again, up came the G3's desktop. Relieved and elated, I quickly chose 17 images that I had shot and began to transfer them. Just as the transfer started, a line of Laker Girls set themselves up three feet in front of me. I thought for sure that that would kill my connection. I glanced back down at the PowerBook and again to my surprise the transfer continued.

It seemed that the only thing distracted by the Laker Girls was me. Once I forced myself to look back down at my computer, I found that the transfer had finished. Total transfer time for 17 images or about 21 megabytes was about two minutes. I inserted a type II memory card, copied the images onto it and handed it to my editor. This was by far the best AirPort experience I've ever had.

The use of this device has had some benefits beyond making deadlines. For some reason, ever since I started getting my images this way, my Reuters counterpart has been in a rather foul mood. (-:

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP
But wait! There's more! AirPort has another application for us photojournalists. With so many of us shooting digital now, it's become pretty common for news organizations to install phone lines for transmitting in the photo wells at baseball games.

While, in many ways, this has allowed us to pay more attention to the game, it has also limited us to shooting in one particular area. Although you may be able to move from outside first base (where your phone line might be) to outside third and back, you always run the risk of missing something.

With AirPort there's no need to worry. Since it has a built in 56k modem, you can leave the Base Station connected to your phone line and move practically anywhere on the field with your camera and laptop and still transmit pictures.

Here are some helpful links.
Apple's AirPort

Farallon SkyLine Wireless PC Card

ORINOCO PC Card (Silver/Gold) (Formerly WaveLAN Turbo 11 Mb PC Card)

Netopia's Timbuktu Pro

(Mark J. Terrill is an Associated Press staff photographer based in Southern California.)

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