Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Flying the Connected Skies

Flying used to be one of the havens where people were disconnected from the rest of the world. No phones, no radios, no Internet connections.

That's all gone.

A recent flight had me try out the GoGo Inflight Internet service (www.gogoinflight.com), which offers WiFi Internet service on airplanes.

What that means is that even when you're flying at 30,000 feet, you can have wireless Internet access.

I tried it and it worked well. I was able to connect to the GoGo service, create an account, sign up for a "single flight" service and start using the Internet.

Everything I tried worked smoothly. I was able to surf the Internet, check and send email and work just as though I was anywhere else where I work.

The cost of the service is $12.95 for a single flight or $34.95 for a monthly plan. GoGo offers a variety of plans, including a 24-hour plan, a 6-pack and more.

I don't travel enough to warrant a monthly subscription, but the single flight purchase served me well.

The speed of the service was pretty slow. It equated to what was essentially dial-up speed, typically one-twentieth the speed of my home or office Internet speed. Certainly good enough for doing basic work, but not enough to use Netflix to watch movies, Skype to make phone calls or other functions that require reasonably fast, uninterrupted service.

Having heard of GoGo in the past, I thought it was satellite-based. In fact, it's terrestrial-based. Instead of having antennas pointed to the Earth, GoGo has towers across the country that face skyward. Electronics on the airplane handle the local WiFi connectivity and transmit the signals to the ground-based towers.

As GoGo is terrestrial based, it only works over land and doesn't work on flights to destinations such as Hawaii where large portions of the flight are over water. The GoGo service is currently domestic (lower 48 states) only.

Of particular interest to me was the fact that once I had purchased a license, it worked on all of my WiFi-enabled devices: my laptop computer and both of my mobile phones.

The only restriction was that I could only use one device at a time. In order to use the WiFi on my mobile phone, I had to log off of GoGo on my laptop then log in on my phone. I can live with that, but it would be nice to have been able to use more than one device at the same time, as I do on the ground.

What I did like was the fact that I could take care of some business and personal functions during the down time of the flight, leaving me more time to spend with the people I was going to see when I landed.

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 20 April 2011.
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

LED Lights are Here. Really.

A few years ago, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) arrived on the scene. They are much more energy efficient than typical incandescent bulbs. For example, a CFL bulb consumes about one-third the amount of electricity as an incandescent bulb.

The reduction in electricity consumption is a great boon, and I've seen a reduction in my monthly electrical consumption since I switched all of the most frequently-used bulbs over to CFLs.

What I haven't liked about CFLs is that they tend to be slow to come up to full brightness and their color is a bit too yellowish for my taste.

Oh, and if you want them to be dimmable, the cost goes way up while the usable range of dimming is about half that of an incandescent bulb.

But I've always wondered why light-emitting diodes (LEDs) weren't more popular. Well, they've finally arrived.

In one of my frequent trips to Costco, I saw that they were offering some LED floodlights. If an item is at Costco, it's mainstream. The cost was $40 per bulb, but with a Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P) instant rebate of $20, the cost was only $20.

Of course, the packaging touts how much money the bulbs will save you over the course of the 10 or so years the light is supposed to last, but they are comparing the bulbs to incandescent bulbs, not the CFLs I already invested in.

What I really like about the LED lights is the color of them, their instant on capabilities and the dimming range. All very attractive.

I also like the fact that the LEDs don't have the bit of mercury in them, so disposal is not as much of an issue as it is with CFLs.

What I don't like about the LED lights is that they have very heavy duty framing and supports that can't be easily crushed or apparently recycled. I don't know the reason for this, but all of the LED lights I've seen seem to be very solidly built.

The other aspect of LED lights that I don't like is their cost. Without the CL&P discount, it's hard to justify a $40 LED bulb instead of a $1 incandescent bulb. I'm sure the cost will come down over time, but it's a hard nut to swallow.

With all of the benefits of LED lights, I was ready to invest in replacing all of the recessed lights in my kitchen with LEDs. That's about 13 lights altogether.

Even though the cost would have been more than $250, I really like what LEDs offer.

So, back I went to Costco only to find that the bulbs were no longer in stock, no one could tell me when they'd be available, and I can't find the bulbs at costco.com — or any other online retailer.

I guess my CFLs will have to stay with me until the LED bulbs become more than a one-time sale at Costco.

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 6 April 2011.