Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Fast is Fast?

We've come to expect high speed Internet service in our homes and just about anywhere.

The days when I was dialing up on a phone line and a modem I thought was pretty impressive. I even recall making my very first phone call over a (fast at the time) dial-up connection saying to myself: This making phone calls over the Internet will never fly.

Well, most homes here have high speed Internet connections, typically provided by Cablevision. The standard service is about 12 Mbps download speed and 2 Mbps upload speed.

Cablevision offers higher speeds through their "Boost" service that yields 30 Mbps download speed and 5 Mbps upload speed. Cablevision always says their speeds are "up to" a certain amount.

But due to some work I've been doing lately, I decided to opt for Cablevision's "Ultra" service that offers 101 Mbps download speed and 15 Mbps upload speed. Again, the numbers are "up to."

The biggest difference with these services — other than the speed — is the price. The basic Optimum Online service is about $45/month. The Boost service is an extra $9.95 per month. The Ultra service is about $99/month. The Ultra service also requires a $300 activation fee plus a $34.95 installation fee.

So when the Cablevision installer arrived Sunday morning, the installation included a new cable modem and went quite well. As I also have Optimum Voice, he had to leave a second cable modem, since the cable modem that supports Optimum Ultra doesn't support Cablevision's voice service.

After the cable modem powered up, we tested it from one of my computers. We received 35 Mbps download speed and 15 Mbps upload. Quite a disappointment from the 101 Mbps advertised.

The technician suggested that I plug a computer directly into the cable modem. By doing so, the Internet speed jumped to a blazing 75 Mbps download and the 15 Mbps upload. Much better, but that meant that could only run one computer at a time off of my home network.

What I've determined is that my Motorola router provided with my Vonage service is probably not capable of handling the high speed connection that Cablevision provides. I've reached out to Vonage to see if they have a replacement router that I can use, but I have found that downloads throughout my home network are substantially faster, including web page loads and e-mails. (Update: after replacing my router, download speeds typically measure higher than 80 Mbps.)

Within a few years, we'll all be expecting Internet speeds higher than the 100 Mbps that is considered really fast now. Google has been offering to provide Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps) to people's homes on an experimental basis.

But for now, I'm enjoying the ability to get my work done faster.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 30 November 2010.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Indoor Games

Before I hear people saying I'm trying to turn their families into couch potatoes, let me say now that I much prefer outdoor moving around games to ones played in front of a screen. But as winter comes upon us, some days it not only better, but safer to stay indoors.

What has been very good is the creation of video games that actually engage people more than just their fingers and thumbs on the controllers.

Nintendo's Wii system introduced the first commercially successful gaming system that got people out of their chairs and involved with the games. While its video wasn't up to the high definition that many of us now take for granted, the games are very successful in a broad range of ages and interests.

For example, the Wii system has exercise games for all age levels and has sports games crossing a similar broad spectrum of people.

This year, Sony released the "Move" add-on for its PlayStation 3 device. The Move controllers are similar to the Wii in that they're wireless, but they have an optical aspect and include a small camera that watches you move and play. To identify the different controllers, the Move controllers have a colored light on top the size of a ping pong ball that turns a color when connected to the PlayStation.

The Move system is still quite new and has very few games, but expect quite a few just in time for the holiday season.

The latest entrant into the move-around-the-room gaming space is Microsoft's Kinect for Xbox 360. Instead of having controllers that you hold, the Kinect actually watches you move with a number of lenses that track your motion and even recognize your face.

Each one of these systems has created a new way to play.

Right now, these systems tend to focus on sports and activities that require significant motor skills. And, on a cold, wintry day, these can be great fun.

I fully expect that as we see these technologies in consumer electronics, we'll see many other uses, say to teach a skill such as knitting, SCUBA diving, driver training and more.

I even expect at one point, these could be used to help you assemble that Ikea bookshelf that you just bought or help would-be-Santas assemble the toys on Christmas Eve.

If the weather outside is yucky, one of these game machines can make the day a bit brighter. But if the weather is good, nothing beats a wonderful day of running around outside.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 10 November 2010.
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