By Daniel Greenberg Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 25, 2004; Page F08
"Where can I get WiFi in Cranberry, Pennsylvania?"
The call came from a musician friend on tour. She was traveling between gigs and hoping to avoid a side trip into Pittsburgh just to check her e-mail and update her Web site. But that's the tricky thing about WiFi Internet access away from home: To search for ways to get online, you usually need to be online.
There are numerous options out there, from coffeehouses to hotels to schools to restaurants -- but many of these WiFi-blessed establishments don't advertise this amenity, or note it only by slapping a tiny sticker on their window.
So the best way to find WiFi access, free or otherwise, is to hit the Web -- repeatedly, since there is no such thing as a single, comprehensive, up-to-date inventory of WiFi access. Instead, you'll have to bookmark a group of Web sites, then remember to check them before you leave the house with a laptop.
JiWire (www.jiwire.com) is the most approachable of the bunch; you can search by address or category of hot spot.
Better yet, it offers a free, downloadable application that lets you look up WiFi access when you're between hot spots. (Remember to refresh this program's database when you do get back online, lest you conduct your searches based on old data.)
A site called NodeDB.com (www.nodedb.com) offers a worldwide database of WiFi access. In the Washington area, it lists 22 volunteer-run WiFi access points in Virginia and Maryland, but none in the District.
Around the Washington area, the site of a user group called Capital Area Wireless Network (www.cawnet.org) includes a list of public access points ("APs" in the vernacular), various Web logs, discussion forums and advice on WiFi use in general.
But suppose you forgot to visit any of these sites before heading out the door. Now what?