Noe Valley Voice May 2006

A Love Letter to Amy

By Ann Garrison

I've never met my Noe Valley neighbor Amy, but she's one of the best neighbors I've ever had.

Amy does not password-protect her high-speed wireless Internet signal. Amy understands community. Amy shares.

I too shared my high-speed wireless signal for most of the past four years, until the RCN cable company stopped service on 24th Street, not wanting to share the cost of undergrounding the wires. At the moment, however, I haven't found a replacement, and therefore I have no wireless net signal, no high-speed signal, not even a dial-up signal.

However, Amy is sharing her unprotected wireless signal. It is available, often faintly and slowly, but fairly reliably, on the west side of my flat on the east side of Dolores Street. The signal Amy shares is a bit stronger on the southwestern edge of my flat, so I'm guessing that Amy lives somewhere on the west side of Dolores. Wherever she is, I want to thank her ever so much for sharing.

Now, if my other neighbors would stop password-protecting their "mad as hell," "Aduana," "Comcast Cable," and "Basnet" wireless networks, we might have a little community here, relying on one another and sharing with neighbors who, for whatever reason, don't have high-speed wireless access.

Neither SBC, Comcast, nor Earthlink has been able to convince my anonymous neighbor Amy that black-hearted identity thieves will sneak in and empty her bank and credit card accounts, read all her steamiest love letters, and--aaaaghh!!--steal her identity if she is so kind as to share her signal with neighbors like me.

I will in time get another high-speed wireless signal going, quite possibly SFLan, the wireless community network now prevalent in the Mission but virtually nonexistent in Noe Valley. (For info on SFLan, "an experimental wireless community network," free of government or corporate influence, see http://www.archive .org/web/sflan.php.) If some of us install SFLan nodes in Noe, the signal will start to show up here, and the more nodes we as neighbors install, the stabler and faster our community network will be. Just imagine the world without Comcast, SBC, AT&T, or Earthlink. SFLan is a one-time charge, and neighbors can pitch in on the cost of a node. SFLan is not for sale, and it does not promote identity-theft anxiety; no one password-protects.

Has anyone out there in Noe had their identity stolen? If so, I would very much like to know whether it happened because someone hacked into their wireless network because they failed to password-protect. The most aggressive financial fraud, i.e., "identity theft," that I have ever had to fight was committed by the very credit card companies, banks, and Internet service providers who are urging us all to password-protect our precious "identities," credit cards, and bank accounts.

What sort of miscreants have abused my plastic? People who wrote them down when I ordered some sort of silliness over the phone. Most people who take telephone orders are just honestly doing their job, but let's face it, once you've given someone all the information they need to charge to your card, they've got it and they can use it. If the really bad guys, as in the spy state, want in, they're gonna get in, but if you're worried about the spy state, take heart. A spy site intercepting electronic transmissions near Stonehenge picks up enough data to fill the Library of Congress every three hours. That's a lot of data to digest. I can't worry that anyone's going to have time to pick mine out of that pile.

And why password-protect your wireless network if you're going to flip open your laptop for instant log-on at an airport wi-fi hotspot or an Internet café? Your computer's password protection is all you have there, so why password-protect at home? Why not be a good neighbor and have some good neighbors instead? Everybody's network goes down--or leaves the neighborhood--from time to time. We all need somebody to lean on.

Thank you again, Amy, whoever you are. And neighbors, please feel free to log onto my unprotected wireless network as soon as I get another one up and running.

* * *

Ann Garrison is a writer who recently returned from New Orleans to her home on Dolores Street. You may contact her at


The Noe Valley Voice welcomes submissions of first-person essays. Mail manuscripts to Bylines, Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114. Or send e-mail submissions to bylines@ Please include your name, address, and phone number. Thank you.