Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Extra TV for Free

Advertisers have known for years that two things sell: sex and free. Well, this column will only entice you with free.

Tablet PCs, probably best known by the Apple iPad, have clearly made a major foothold in the marketplace. Software applications — or "apps" as they're called — are instrumental in giving these tablets life.

Much has and will continue to be written about the different strengths and weaknesses of Apple's offerings versus the Android operating system from Google and the offerings from HP, BlackBerry and others. This not the column for that discussion.

What is of interest is that if you purchase your cable service from Cablevision and use their Optimum products, there's a very powerful app for the iPad that you may want to try.

Called "Optimum for iPad" and available from Apple's App Store, this app does a handful of things quite nicely.

First, if you are within your home where your cable service is delivered, the app allows you to watch live TV directly on your iPad. This is where the free TV offer comes in. In essence, it turns your iPad into a TV — for free!

Second, the app lets you schedule and manage your Optimum Digital Video Recorders. This means that if you want to record "American Idol," you can do it directly from your iPad. This is a function that does not have to be done from within your home.

There are a few limitations to the Optimum for iPad app that I have encountered.

First, the limitation of the iPad having to be on your home WiFi network and in your home is unfortunate. This is a licensing-of-shows issue, not a technical one. While I understand Cablevision's licensing restrictions, it would still be nice to watch live TV wherever I happen to be with my iPad.

Second, while we can control the DVR(s) in my home with the iPad app, it would be nice to allow the DVR to stream video I've already recorded to the iPad. The current version doesn't allow this. If I want to watch something I've recorded, I have to sit in front of the television to where the DVR is connected. How quaint.

Third, I've found that with the live TV streaming to the iPad, the video frequently will halt, seemingly go back in time about 10 seconds and start streaming again. This seems to be an issue with the app or the service, but something that I hope will be fixed soon.

Optimum also offers an iPhone/Touch app, but it only controls the DVR. It doesn't offer live video streaming. Optimum also offers an app for Android devices, but it currently offers only the features of the iPhone/Touch app. I expect this will change as Optimum's software developers write code. What was pleasantly surprising was how Optimum has done a good job of keeping abreast of mobile technologies when their business is typically based on an inherently fixed (e.g. "cable") service.

For us as consumers, it is freeing us to have the entertainment we want when and where we want it. Life is good.

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 27 July 2011.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Traveling Students

This month, my family is hosting a high school student from Spain. She's here to learn about American language and culture. Of course, one of the best ways to do this is by living with an American family.

It's quite fun that she arrived on the Thursday before the long Fourth of July weekend. What indoctrination into American culture!

Prior to her arrival, we received her email address and were able to email her some photos of our family and even some panoramas of the front and rear of our home from a free tool from Microsoft called photosynth.net.

We were considering doing a video conference call using Skype to introduce her to our family, but that was not something she had available to her.

I was also wondering what technology she would need while she's here. It should come as no surprise that she came well-equipped.

First of all, she brought her own laptop computer. All she needed was access to our home WiFi and she was off and running.

Second, she brought her own digital camera, so she was quite able to take and send photos to her family whenever she wanted.

Third, while we haven't seen one yet, it wouldn't surprise me if she brought her own mobile phone, although it won't surprise me if she doesn't use it for the month she's with us. [Update: She did bring a mobile phone, but is using it only for texting.]

All in all, she came very well-equipped to fit into our home with what is now pretty standard travel electronics.

I do always enjoy seeing computers and other devices which are not in English. While the screens look and feel the same, the names that are used for the various menus and options are typically quite different. It's actually a good way to learn bits and pieces of a foreign language. If one knows what the menus and options are in English, there's typically a one-to-one correspondence between the menus and options in the other language. I've enjoyed seeing our student's Spanish software.

Another aspect that is different is that the keyboards can be somewhat different. Spanish, for example, has a number of character modifications that are simply not part of English. While our computers have the ability to generate these characters, they're usually on a menu or some obscure command somewhere, whereas on the Spanish keyboard, they're important enough to warrant real estate on the keyboard itself.

While this summer, we're having a visitor in our home, I know of many families who are sending their children abroad for some or all of the summer. The best part of the technology that people can carry with them is that it's generally much lighter than it ever has been and keeping in touch for fun or emergencies is easier and less expensive than it ever has been.

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 13 July 2011.