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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

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Technology | 'MiFi' offers laptop users a mobile internet signal

Issue: "On the rails," Oct. 9, 2010

Years ago, politicians and dreamers talked of blanketing whole cities in a wireless internet signal, making it possible for anyone with a laptop to access the web from anywhere-a coffee shop, a park, your own bedroom. But we're still waiting for that idea to be realized, as anyone who's looked for an internet signal in a new city knows all too well.

But cell phone companies recognize the potential market and have been coming up with solutions. In addition to tiny devices that can be tethered to laptops and operate over cell phone data networks, a new type of device has popped up: the MiFi. It's about the size of a thick credit card and emits a 3G internet signal that up to five people can use at once. The Virgin Mobile version costs $40 per month and operates over the Sprint network, with no limit on the amount of data users can download-making it possible even to watch movies over the network. The signal is only half as fast as a cable modem and it won't operate in areas without Sprint coverage, but for many, the MiFi may represent a convenient, cost-effective way to access the internet.

Take a break

Waiting for the bus? Put down that BlackBerry: Recent studies find that our brains need that down time. At the University of California, San Francisco, researchers found that rats only process new experiences when they take a break from exploration. A study at the University of Michigan found that people learn better after a walk in the woods than in an urban environment. Using technology constantly to multitask during small gaps in the day-standing in line, going for a walk-may keep us from being able to solidify ideas and experiences or turn them into knowledge and long-term memory.

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