Ahh, I love the smell of DIY hacking in the wee hours of the morning!
Sara and I have been putting together a computer with some rather extreme requirements. The machine needs to be just about unbreakable (read: no spyware, viruses, etc), surf the web, chat on IM, and get email. I figure that Firefox + GMail + Meebo fit the bill for most of those requirements, but there's a twist...
The machine needs to do all this without a wired or even a steady local wireless internet connection.
In the age of ubiquitous wifi, I figure that catching an open signal from a generous neighbor is pretty likely, but Sara and I have both had trouble getting a strong, steady signal where the computer is going. I needed a way to amplify the signal, so I went off to research land to read up on poor man's wifi.
I settled on the parabolic "wok spoon" method, which with a little inspiration turned into the "Strainer plus desk lamp" contraption you see above. The USB wifi dongle is mounted in the center of the dish, and the wire runs down from inside the lamp housing. The desk lamp it's mounted to allows the dish to rotate and angle in any direction, making it perfect for finding an access point and staying trained to it.
Once everything was hot-glued together (god bless the hot glue gun!) I plugged it back in and tested out the results. Netstumbler showed that I was getting a weak reading from a nearby linksys access point that was hanging open. A bit of angling around, and the green graph of netstumbler climbed skywards as we zeroed in on the point. Once it was directly in the sights of the dish, connecting was easy and connection was stable and fast! The reflector dish worked incredibly well, considering it cost us $20 and less than an hour's work to put together!
We'll see how it all holds up in actual use, but for now I'm really happy with how it turned out. It looks halfway decent and certainly gets the job done!