Monday, May 4, 2009

thanks for all the coffee

Starbucks is like a number of retail outlets with an antiquated technological business model: charge people for internet access. It's not strange to many people who feel the convenience of getting on the web in the comfort of their favorite java dealer's boutique is ideal and worth a small hourly price. But for the rest of the world that just wants a brief look at their mail or news before heading out the door, belly full of bagels and iced latte, the price isn't worth the convenience. Thus many stores such as Dunkin Donuts and even Dennys have incorporated free wireless internet as a part of their business model to drive revenue by keeping customers planted in their seat and hoping they get hungry.

For the old model there is a price, and it is usually pretty standard in how it is addressed. You go to a store, you find wireless, you go to a website - and you are redirected to a portal demanding $10 an hour. Once receipt of your payment is confirmed, access controls in a proxy allow you to once again peruse the internet "fairly" unrestricted. This model works best in hotels or other establishments where it's preferable to pay a premium to get some kind of comfortable access to data services.

Being a hacker, I dislike the idea of paying to attain information. I don't think all information should be free per-se - some information is of limited scope and a sensitive nature, and i'd rather not everyone seeing all the "information" I access from my personal computer at home, for example. But in general I think paying for something the world has come to accept as "free access" just because it's a convenience some people find useful enough to be worth money to have access to isn't right. It's similar to how software is sold - it may cost the same amount to develop a piece of software that processes e-commerce payments as it does to develop an image-manipulating program, while one product is billed as far more expensive than the other, merely because people are willing to pay that much more simply to attain it. It's simply not fair to hold someone economically hostage because you have something they want or need, even though it really cost you nothing to develop it. This is how the rich become the super-rich in our excellent system of capitalism - exploiting people's weaknesses and benefiting from passing something off as more expensive than it really is.

So keeping this in mind, let me explain how you can get free internet access at Starbucks. There are several methods. The first two require an outside server to run a specific program, often which you must pay for unless someone has granted you a high level of access (and subsequently trusts you very much) or if someone else sets up the software for you.

The first piece of software is called iodine - this also requires name server entries to be set up for the domain (and yes you must own a domain) you will be connecting to. The theory is this: Most
- to be continued -

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