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TinotopiaLog → Yet More Problems At Panera ( 1 Oct 2004)
Friday 01 October 2004

Yet More Problems At Panera

T-Mobile uses ‘Hotspot’ as the brand name for their paid-subscription wireless networks in Starbuckseses, airport lounges, and other such places. The name seems to be catching on as a term for public 802.11x networks in general.

But what do you call a public wireless network that’s not particularly useful? A coldspot perhaps, though Sears might sue. Last night Nicole and I were hanging out in the Reston Town Center Panera again, and at first we couldn’t get a connection at all, again. The wireless network was there, but the authentication server wasn’t, so nothing could happen.

After a short while, the wireless network went away all together and then came back, and the authentication server was back in the land of the living: someone had rebooted the access point, solving the problem. Score one for Panera.

But our enthusiasm — or my enthusiasm, anyway — soon waned:


That’s right, Tinotopia was unreachable from that network. To say that this limits the usefulness of the network for me is something of an understatement. Note also that there’s no way to lodge a complaint about this, no ‘I think you must be mistaken’ button. And there doesn’t appear to be any place on Sonicwall’s own corporate website to complain, either. They’re just not interested.

Strictly speaking, I suppose they’re accurate. Tinotopia is meant for adults, if only because most children are not interested in urban planning, Chinese ‘markets’, and what Tino thinks of various hotels. (Honestly, it’s a bit amazing that anyone is interested, but there you are.) I discuss ‘mature’ topics here if ‘mature’ is the opposite of ‘juvenile’. It’s just that I can’t see how this should be a ‘Forbidden Category’. I tried to figure out what might have tripped their sensors, as it were, but the Sonicwall website doesn’t list a category called “Adult/Mature Content”. Just Violence/Profanity, Partial Nudity, Full Nudity, Sexual Acts, Gross Depictions, Intolerance, Satanic/Cult, Drugs/Drug Culture, Militant/Extremist, Sex Education, Questionable/Illegal Gambling, and Alcohol & Tobacco. All the sites that I found blocked, though, were because of “Adult/Mature Content” or “Pornography”. ‘Pornography’ I can figure out on my own. Of course none of the sites I was trying to visit were actually pornographic in any sense of the word; the only thing close was Fark, which, among other things, offers links to other sites that might be thought of a pornographic.

Anyway, Tinotopia being blocked was the big problem. I have a proxy server set up to get around problems like this, but guess where it is? I’ll have to re-jigger the system to encrypt my proxy traffic. I would have done this last night while I was sitting there, but — you guessed it — a good number of websites with information having to do with proxy server configuration are also considered ‘pornographic’ etc. so I couldn’t get at a lot of documentation.

Panera is a private company, and of course they’re free to offer whatever kind of wireless network service they like. Most places take the option of not providing any wireless network service at all, so I suppose that Panera is still doing better than average. But then providing no wireless network doesn’t cost anything; Panera’s approach both costs them money and, if these filters don’t improve, don’t really offer their customers all that much utility. I can work around this with minimal trouble, but most people can’t. Panera’s free network is a significant competitive advantage in attracting the kind of people who would use it. But once someone runs up against a blocked website, it’s going to plant a seed of doubt in his mind for the future about the potential usefulness of the network. I’m sure that only a tiny fraction of things are actually blocked, but because a few things that I wanted to read happen to be from that tiny fraction, to me the network appears to have huge holes in it. I don’t think of Panera as offering free wireless Internet service any more; I think of them as offering a shiny toy that can be used by some people for some things.

Posted by tino at 20:41 1.10.04
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Recently I had internet-access problems at Panera also. I was not able to access Christian websites because they were tagged “Occult/Cult”. One example is www.undergroundbride.com. The websites in question contain none of the vitriol that haunts contemporary right-wing pharisitic religion. I got no response from SonicWALL and an unhelpful “We block what we want” reply from Panera. Sigh. —Chuck

Posted by: Chuck at May 6, 2005 06:09 PM