As I've written before, I have a tiny Nokia N800 portable computer that I use to keep in touch and do things such as update this blog while I'm off bicycle touring. On my trip around Washington last July the N800 worked like a champ and I'm still pretty pleased with the device. The N800 is still doing a great job and even though the new N810 with it's built-in keyboard and GPS might be even a little nicer for touring cyclist, I'm not rushing out to replace my N800.
Open wifi hotspots are great boon to the touring cyclists but it seems like every time the subject of wifi comes up on the Touring list you get people expressing the "that's stealing!" viewpoint. My own approach to this one of intent, I try to use hotspots that I believe have been intentionally left open. And if I'm using a coffee shop's open wifi signal, you can bet I've bought my coffee there. Unless they're closed, then I don't feel guilty.
In densely settled urban areas in the US it is common to pick-up connect to an open wifi spot without being able to figure out exactly where it's coming from. Very often these hotspots will just have an identifier like "Linksys" which is the default name for a common brand of wireless router. It is these spots where it is almost impossible to determine the intent of the router's owner. Did they leave the spot open because of neglect or courtesy?
My router at home is open because, as my son notes, "you're a damn hippie, Dad." I've tried several times to explain this to people but Bruce Schneier over at Wired just did a better job of explaining it than I ever could. You can read his essay here:
Like Bruce, I sometimes talk to strangers. Sometimes my computers do as well.