Free Tech & WiFi

Everything on the web is seemingly “Free! No Risk Trial! No Credit Card Needed!” But a few helpful tools are legitimately free without being tricky or restrictive. Here’s a few you should peek at.

Square: Plug a tiny, free-in-the-mail device into the headphone jack of your iPhone or Android, and you can actually take credit card payments, settle restaurant tabs, make garage sales vastly more attractive, and feel weirdly futuristic. (
Dropbox: It’s just a folder, really—a folder that instantly backs up any files you drop into it, then makes those files available on every computer and phone you own, and on the web as a last resort. Great for projects, quick sharing, and mothballing your thumb drives. ( It’s a site that lets you do a simple, wondrous thing: pick out and listen to music with your friends, or with strangers, from anywhere you can get on the web. Sign in using your Facebook credentials, create a public or private room or join an existing session, then jump into a DJ “booth.” Search out and queue up songs from a tremendously vast library that will make your friends hit the “Awesome” button and make their little character heads bob. But don’t say we didn’t warn you about the addiction. (

TripIt: Sign up, give its servers access to your Gmail (or choose manual forwarding if that seems creepy), and every time an airline, hotel, rental agency, or even concert venue sends a confirmation e-mail, TripIt creates detailed itinerary with weather, directions, flight details, and more, all easily accessible from your phone or browser. (  


“Free” wireless internet is plentiful in Western New York’s more popular towns, provided you’re willing to buy a coffee, beer, or slice of pizza. If you’re looking for a more cost-conscious connection, you still have options:

Your phone: If you pay for web service on your phone, you might have noticed offers to add a “Hotspot” or “tethering” service for even more money per month. For phones other than the iPhone, PdaNet ( offers unofficial phone-to-laptop connections with software you only need to purchase once. Some versions can even be used for free, with slight limitations.

Web search: Sure, it’s not much help when you’re in the moment, looking for service. But if you’ve got a moment before you head out, or if you or a friend have a web-connected phone, do a local search on WeFi ( or JiWire ( You’ll find in Buffalo, for example, a nice reminder of the Buffalo Erie County Library’s free Wi-Fi, a ping in the downtown Washington Market (didn’t you need to pick up lettuce, anyway?), and another at Delta Sonic Car Wash further uptown. All that is to say, maybe you don’t have to be right inside such a place to grab a signal. Just saying.

Unexpected spots: You’ll still see businesses and cultural spots advertise “Free Wi-Fi,” but it’s not as prevalent as it was in those heady days of Starbuck’s peak expansion. Still, lots of spots you wouldn’t expect offer free Wi-Fi: courthouses, quick oil change spots, laundromats, and hospitals.

Beware of the phrase “Free Public Wi-Fi”: You’ll see this connection at all kinds of spots. Whatever you do, don’t connect to it. It’s basically a tech glitch that spreads like a chain letter—just another laptop looking for Wi-Fi, and repeating the last (false) spot it found. With that out of the way, you can launch more successful searches for that vital bandwidth.  


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