Saturday, December 29, 2012

Capturing the Action with Sports Cameras

It's nothing new that electronic gadgets are getting smaller, cheaper and better.

One of the more interesting segments I've seen lately is sports cameras ... in particular, video cameras.

The first "portable" video camera I ever used was a behemoth that required a suitcase-sized bag containing a reel-to-reel videotape along with a beefy cable to a video camera that was so heavy it had to rest on your shoulder.

We've come a long way since then. Most of these cameras are now small and light enough that they can be mounted on a helmet and you not even know they're there.

And, if by some chance you bang your head on something and destroy the camera, it'll only set you back a couple hundred bucks instead of thousands.

While many of these cameras are used to record feats of daring, like Felix Baumgartner who skydove from a record-breaking 128,000 feet or Jeb Corliss who skydives in a "wing suit" or people who kayak, ski, run, drive fast cars or anything else we like to see.

But these cameras are also great ways to record family vacations, trips and even sports events, since they're small, easy to wear and fun to see the results.

I've even noticed people who mount them on their dashboards to record what happens when they drive and even provide evidence in case they see or are in an accident.

I recently saw a policeman who had a small camera attached to his glasses to record his interactions with people he met, presumably so there's a record of his interactions.

So here's a rundown of some of the current contenders out there:

GoPro: This is the Apple iPad of the segment. Their Hero line of cameras controls the lion's share of the market for good reason and has a huge following. GoPro's recent addition of their Hero3 keeps them a leader in this segment.

Contour+: Smaller and more self-contained than the GoPro Hero series, it's a great competitor. Their small size and great features make them especially attractive for people where small size really matters.

Other cameras worth looking into include: JVC Adixxion, Sony Action Cam, Ion Air Pro, and Drift HD Ghost.

So, whether you're trying to break a world record or just record some fun family events, take a look at some of the sports video cameras out there. You'll be glad you did.

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 Friday 28 December 2012.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mobile Freedom with FreedomPop

Computers used to be isolated devices. Connecting with other computer systems was an inherent security risk. Still is, but we deal with it.

Now, the thought of a standalone computer that doesn't connect to other computers is almost unthinkable.

The most recent addition to connected computers is mobile connectivity. You should have Internet access anywhere you are.

Well, that works mostly for mobile phones, but what about the times that you have a laptop computer, tablet or some other device that needs Internet access?

There are lots of places that offer WiFi — typically free, but not always. If you're a cable Internet subscriber here in the tri-state area, you can usually use your device and connect to CableWiFi in public areas on your tablet or laptop computer.

But what if you don't have WiFi access and you're going somewhere? The best types of devices are called "mobile hotspots" and they're available from all of the major carriers: Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, in particular. But most of them cost money to buy, then you commit yourself to at least a two-year contract.

I've tried mobile hotspots and I like them, but I don't like the initial and ongoing costs. Plus, I find I don't need them enough to pay for it when I don't need it.

Then I received a solicitation from FreedomPop, whose website is For a $100 deposit, they give you a mobile hotspot using 4G — the latest high-speed Internet — and 500 GB of data traffic per month.

Of course, you can buy more data or sign up for a monthly plan or buy a bunch of different services, but if you only need to use Internet access occasionally, this is a sweet deal.

In the couple of weeks that I've had the FreedomPop mobile hotspot, I've had to use it a few times and it's been great. It works. It's fast, with 8 MB download and 2 MB upload speed, and it's small — about 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches by a half inch. It charges using a mini-USB port, which means I can charge it while using my laptop computer.

And it supports up to six devices at a time, so my laptop can use it while my iPad uses it, while my children's iPod Touches use it.

While 500 MB may or may not sound like a lot of data, it's perfectly adequate if what you do is use it for occasional email and web browsing. As soon as you start streaming audio or video, you will exceed the 500 MB free limit.

But, if you're going on a trip, you can log on to your FreedomPop account and buy a 2 GB or 4 GB data plan for a month and use pretty much all the bandwidth you and your family can consume on the drive to Florida and back.

FreedomPop also offers you ways to earn free bandwidth by completing offers from various resellers. I didn't find this particular feature something of interest to me, but it may appeal to others.

I really like the idea and implementation of FreedomPop. It's affordable, it works and it fills a gap that I've had in my repertoire of tech needs.

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 12 December 2012.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Holiday Madness

Holiday madness has arrived yet again. Black Friday, purportedly the day that many companies go from being financially "in the red," or unprofitable, to being "in the black," or profitable, for the year continues to be a huge marketing day.

Add to that Cyber Monday, which is the day people are encouraged to buy online — also with supposed huge discounts.

If one is in the market, the real question is: What to buy?

From a consumer electronics standpoint, flat-screen TVs continue to drop in price and grow in size. From reading the flyers that appear in my mailbox to the occasional trip through Costco and Best Buy, one would think that any TV less than 50 inches in size would be unthinkable.

But the tablet PC market is growing in size, too. With Apple having a number of viable variations on its iPad now available and with the tablets with the Android operating system growing in popularity and generally lower in price, it's clear the personal computer market — both desktop and laptop varieties — are seeing sales declines.

Heading over to the smartphone department, the Apple iPhone is still the market leader, although the Samsung Galaxy S III outsold the iPhone for the month before the iPhone 5 was released. While there are very good reasons for people to be in the Apple iPhone, Android or even the Microsoft Windows phone camps, there are plenty of very good phones out there to choose from.

Unless you choose an Apple iPhone, the biggest problem with choosing a smartphone is that every month, another great phone is released. Apple has fewer phones and releases them on a cycle that lets people pretty much use their phone for a year or two.

Moving on to gaming consoles, the Microsoft XBOX 360 continues to be a winner, especially because of its Kinect interactivity, but Nintendo has introduced its Wii U this year that includes a second screen. Even Sony's next generation PlayStation 4 is reported to have the new 4K video output — making today's high-definition output look fuzzy — but no date has been announced by Sony, so it won't be on anyone's shopping list this year.

If you're in the market for a digital camera or camcorder, we're finally getting to the point where cameras are good at both and you won't have to carry around two cameras. Mobile phones and tablets do take stills and videos — with remarkably good quality, considering the optics in them. But I'm still a fan of a full-size sensor and dedicated hardware and software for really high-quality images. Depending on how much you want to spend and how much weight you want to carry, there are some great offerings from Canon, Nikon and Sony, to name just a few.

The biggest problem now is choice. There are so many good offerings from so many good companies — at prices that don't scare most people — that choosing what you want can be difficult.

In most cases, ask a friend and read some reviews in magazines or online to see how well the items you're considering will meet your needs. The good news is that unless you have really specific needs, most of the products out there will provide you with good service for a number of years.

Happy holiday madness!

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 28 November 2012.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Can't Watch Screens That Don't Move

For me, television equates to a screen typically sitting in a family room or living room where people plop themselves down and watch whatever shows they want to see.

But, yet again, that's my generation.

This point was brought home to me the other day when my daughter was going off to babysit.

We were telling her that once her young charges were off to bed, she could watch TV or maybe do some homework. We always have to suggest these things.

The response was that she did not want to watch TV on a big screen. Instead, she wanted to take an iPad or her laptop computer so she could use it for her video entertainment. To date, she does not have a smartphone with a screen for web browsing and similar functions.

When I inquired as to why she didn't want to sit and watch TV, it was difficult to elicit a concise answer, but what I determined was that she wanted a few things that old-fashioned TV simply does not offer:

First, it's not interactive. Live TV can't be started, stopped or fast-forwarded.

Second, related to not being interactive, it's not portable. She wanted to be able to manipulate not only the programming, but also be able to flip back and forth between watching video, talking to friends on Facebook, chatting with them using Skype and other functions.

Third, TV doesn't give you the number of options that a mobile device does. Despite cable TV services offering typically at least 100 channels of programming and sometimes upwards of 600 channels, that's nothing compared to what the Internet offers.

In short, the TV viewing experience that I grew up with — and still enjoy to this day — is clearly not what my daughter expects of her time being entertained.

In many ways, I admire the new way of watching TV. It's not just a solo or family experience. People nowadays can be entertained in their own homes while interacting with their friends wherever they might be.

Part of this is very exciting and interesting, but I also often like the down time or being just with my wife and family without all of the other interactions — some may call them distractions — of being part of a larger community all the time.

I fully expect that as I learn from my children how they receive their entertainment, I will find ways in which I will benefit from their new perspective on entertainment.

Until then, I'm going to enjoy television the old-fashioned way ... in the privacy and solitude of my home.

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 14 November 2012.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living WITHOUT Technology

On Monday 29 October, Hurricane Sandy swept through the Northeast, including Westport.

For most of the town — over 90 percent — power went out early evening. And the power stayed out for days. In fact, five days after Sandy hit, easily 60 percent of the town was still without power.

So what was it like to live without the modern conveniences?

Relatively speaking, Westport was lucky. While many homes were damaged or destroyed, we did not receive the devastation that many communities in New York and New Jersey did.

Nevertheless, most of the town lost one of its basic utilities: Electricity.

Without electricity, when the sun goes down, the house is dark. Very dark. Batteries in flashlights only last so long.

Without electricity, it's hard to heat one's home. Even if your home runs on fuel oil, it takes electricity to circulate the hot water that results from the burners.

Without electricity, one's computers don't work. Even the batteries on laptop computers last typically no more than five hours. If the computers do work, it's hard to do much without Internet access nowadays.

Without electricity, if you have a well with a pump, you don't have water for bathing or cooking.

In talking to people, the overwhelming utility that people needed was electricity.

What surprised me, though, was that the second utility people wanted was Internet access. Forget phone service, forget television. With the Internet, people could connect to the world — and each other.

While on my block, we lost our power for six days, yet our cable TV/Internet service was never disrupted. Because of our generator being able to keep our cable modem and home networking running, we were connected to the world — and even provided WiFi to some of our neighbors.

The Westport Public Library continued its tradition of providing a great resource for people who were looking for a few basic services: Electricity and Internet access. A warm place to stay was also nice, but the week's moderate temperatures meant that keeping warm was not one of the immediate necessities.

While the need for food, shelter and water continue to be high on everyone's list of basic needs, what has surprised me is how high Internet access has become. Even our first responders are using Internet service to communicate to the community about status updates, emergency services, where to go for needs one has. The Internet truly has become a utility.

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 7 November 2012.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Email is so Lame

Back in the day, I remember all of the pink "While You Were Out" phone messages that would end up on my office desk. Then voicemail came and the "While You Were Out" slips diminished greatly.

Eventually, email arrived and even my voice-mail messages decreased. And that's the way it's been for a long time.

Then I needed to start communicating with my children, so a few years ago, I set up an email account for my daughter.

For about a year, she had fun with it, but when she turned 13 — the age at which one can establish a Facebook account — I found that I didn't hear back from her when I sent her emails.

When I asked her if she'd received my email, she said she hadn't checked it lately, yet I'd seen her using her computer a lot.

Eventually, between looking over her shoulder to find out how she was using her computer and just talking to her, it became apparent that kids don't use email.

The current mode of electronic communication of children is Facebook and text-messaging.

Oh, and never, ever, pick up the phone to call anyone.

A recent conversation with Verizon about my family's mobile phone plan had the Verizon rep advise me: "I see your daughter isn't using very many minutes of your calling plan, but she's making very good use of the unlimited texting." Great.

And it's not only my daughter who is communicating without email or phones. I find that when it comes to setting up social engagements, work on homework assignments or looking stuff up, Facebook and texting is the way it's done.

My frustration is that when I see how long it takes to make arrangements for an event — sometimes hours — and it could be done in a couple of minutes over the phone, I just don't get it. But that's the way I see things being done by the younger generation.

What has become clear to me is that when I need to communicate with my daughter or her friends, I need to do it with texting or on Facebook. Surprisingly enough, it works quite well.

So, while I doubt I'll be giving up my lame email or phone accounts anytime soon, I now know how to contact my children when they're not with me in our home.

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 31 October 2012.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Flying the Techie Skies

I don't travel as much as I used to, but enough to be reminded of what it was like when I traveled a whole lot.

We would all agree that traveling includes far more technical bits to it.

But for this column, I'm going to focus on the in-flight technologies that we have come to expect.

Let's start with entertainment. Yes, I remember when airplanes meant that you could read a book or a bunch of magazines with no distractions other than lots of people around you.

Then a large projection screen was put in the front of each section where people could kind of, sort of see it. And you had to pay a few dollars for the headsets that were more like stethoscopes than headsets.

The great innovation was when every seat back started to have a screen in it. The first iterations played the same entertainment for everyone at the same time. The next advancement was to let people choose among different channels, but with everyone on the same schedule, meaning that a particular movie started for everyone at the same time.

Beyond that, we now have numerous movies that everyone can start and stop whenever he or she wants to. We even have live TV via satellite that lets people watch, for example, current sporting events or TV shows.

Most of these technologies have been around for at least 10 years.

What surprises me is how inconsistent the airlines are in providing them.

Over the weekend, I took a trip to California, where I was on four different flights on United. Each flight had a different in-flight entertainment system. This included the big screen in front of the cabin, smaller screens every few rows that drop down from above and screens in the seat back in front of me.

Additionally, the payment model was different for each flight.

One flight gave free headsets and didn't charge for the shared movie on the big screen; another flight offered free headsets, but offered free DirecTV service; and another flight offered free headsets, but required you to pay for the DirecTV service — all on the same airline and all within a couple of days of each other.

Of course, United was advertising its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which offers even better in-flight entertainment, electrical outlets at each seat and Wi-Fi. That does sound like a dream.

But when I asked one of the flight attendants about the discrepancies in in-flight offerings, and when we pay for something and when we don't, the response was a predictable: "Nothing is free anymore."

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 17 October 2012.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bringing Home the Blue Ribbon

The third annual World Maker Faire New York ( took place Sept. 29 and 30. Close to 50,000 people attended, including many from Westport. Maker Faires have been described as the world's most extraordinary gathering of do-it-yourself talents in science, technology, crafting, fashion, food and sustainability.

While many of us brought home things we saw or bought, one young man brought home something even more valuable.

Michael Colley, a 17-year-old senior at Staples High School, came home with the Editor's Choice Blue Ribbon prize.
Michael Colley with his $20 bow

His winning creation was an archery bow that can be made for $20. According to Michael, "I have always wanted to make a bow, so I invented my own kind of bow. It functions like a traditional bow, but instead it gets its power from springs, as opposed to taking it from the wood. And the whole thing can be made for $20."

His entry at the World Maker Faire New York can be seen at

The Maker Faire judges and the crowds at the event really liked the bow.

According to Maureen Colley, Michael's mother, "The event person who gave us the award told us it was not only because of the ingenuity of his creation, but because of the buzz and excitement it created. We had an almost nonstop flow of people to see the bow and test out the bow in our makeshift archery range. We gave out 250 flyers in just a couple of hours on Saturday, and the rest of the day people took photos of our one and only flyer. We had to reprint 500 more for Sunday. If we had kits, we could have sold hundreds of them."

Alex Angus, another Staples senior, was instrumental in helping with the bow project. The two boys worked together on the project and worked the booth space at the Maker Faire. Alex is a Boy Scout on his way to receiving his Eagle designation.

Michael Coley and Andrew Angus at the World Maker Faire New York 2012 with their "$20 Archery" project.

"Michael is always in the garage tinkering. He just walked in the room one day with his bow and said, `Look what I just made,' " Maureen Colley said.

This sort of creativity and innovation comes from people of every age and every interest. Tinkerers and do-it-yourselfers often come up with great ideas. Some change the world, but most help inspire the creator and others who meet him or her.

Michael, congratulations on this achievement. And thank you for the inspiration.

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 3 October 2012.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Plan on Making it to the World Maker Faire New York

More than 2,000 people attended the inaugural Westport Mini Maker Faire ( earlier this year. Now is your chance to see one of the really big Maker Faires, the World Maker Faire New York ( at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, N. Y., on Saturday, Sept. 29, and Sunday, Sept. 30.

With more than 500 makers showing their stuff, literally acres of displays, interactive exhibits and fun for all ages, this is a must-see event.

Whether you are interested in working with paper, plastic, electronics, robotics, cloth, water, airplanes, engines — or just want to come for the good food — you owe it to yourself to attend the event.

The main areas that will be covered include: arts, crafts, electronics, engineering, food/beverage, for kids (less than 5 years old), health, music, science, sustainability and young makers (less than 18).

The event is in its third year in New York. I have attended the previous two and my children and I have always left with big smiles on our way home and felt a little bit smarter and a whole lot more excited about life.

There will be some representatives from Westport at the World Maker Faire, too. David Pogue, Westport resident, New York Times technology columnist and television host of the NOVA series "Making Stuff," will be there. Many members of the Westport maker community will also attend both Saturday and Sunday, so the chance that you'll bump into someone you know is quite high.

People often ask me, "What will I see or do at a Maker Faire?" It's really hard to describe. There are three things I suggest to people:

First, go to and search for "Maker Faire." You'll find thousands of videos people have taken at Maker Faires from around the world;

second, go to to see a video of the Westport Mini Maker Faire from earlier this year;

third, take the family and go. It's a day that everyone will enjoy.

Whether you can come for both days or just one, be sure to put this event on your family schedule. I'm sure you'll have a great time and will enjoy the conversation not only on the way home, but for months afterwards.

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 19 September 2012.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Innovation Flourishes with Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge

Creativity and innovation are key drivers of an economy. Even our state government is helping to promote innovation through the creation of entities such as the Stamford Innovation Center.

Here in Connecticut, we are also lucky to have companies that help drive innovation.

One of these companies is Sikorsky Aircraft, a United Technologies company, and its Sikorsky Innovations organization.

Sikorsky Innovations has recently announced the Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge. Visit for information.

The challenges that Sikorsky is posing are:
  1. How can your business concept enable safe, high-speed manned and unmanned vehicle operations in complex, obstacle-rich environments?
  2. How can your business concept utilize vertical flight to better serve or create new markets?
  3. How can your business concept introduce new approaches to preserve, stabilize or heal damaged systems and structures?
  4. How can your business concept reduce the cost and time of the design-build-test-qualify process for new complex vehicles?
  5. How can your business concept realize cost savings and lead-time reductions by using 3-D printing and additive manufacturing to produce or maintain components in vehicles?
The winners will receive:
  • One year free utilization of a predetermined space, anticipated to be able to seat two to four people, within the new Stamford Innovation Center.
  • One year of free access to new Stamford Innovation Center — also know as Stamford iCenter — shared business services, mentoring programs and education program and events.
  • Participation in a rolling, three-month-long Sikorsky education program, designed to provide both technical and business strategy guidance.
These sorts of innovation challenges are good for everyone. To begin with, they provide focused energy for creative minds that have or can create solutions to pressing problems. They also help people with skills and talents to gain visibility — whether they win or not. Finally, the winners have an opportunity to bring an idea to life that may have otherwise gone unfulfilled.

As we continue to innovate our way into the 21st century, I hope other companies and individuals will support and participate in these innovation/entrepreneurial challenges. It is amazing what problems human minds can solve when applied.

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 4 September 2012.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Forget High Definition - 4K is Here

Don't get me wrong. High Definition (HD) television and video are far improved over old-style television. But HD will be replaced by 4K technology in a few years.

To compare HD with 4K, it all comes down to how much information is gathered for each frame. HD tops out at 1,920 x 1080 pixels per frame, or about 2 million pixels per image. 4K tops out at 4,096 x 3,072 pixels per frame, or about 12.6 million pixels per image. Simple math indicates that 4K has more than six times the amount of information per frame than HD does.

What does this mean to you and me?

It's very simple: All this extra data means we will see clearer, more realistic images with 4K than with HD. Also, when it comes to creating 3D images, having more data will allow it to be more realistic. 3D is still struggling, but as soon as the technology appears where groups don't have to wear glasses, I predict we will see virtually every movie and video shot in 3D.

So far, the only people using 4K gear are professional videographers and filmmakers. There's no real consumer equipment available. Even if there were, there's little to no way to obtain 4K content.

But I recently did have a 4K experience. The Bow-Tie Cinemas in Trumbull, Connecticut recently opened up a Bow-Tie Extreme, or BTX, theatre. Not only does it have a 2,000-square-foot screen, a 30,000-watt sound system and very cushy seats, but it sports a 4K digital projector. A few of my friends and I went to the BTX theatre recently. Watching some of the "warm-up" stuff was pretty uninspiring. The video was kind of grainy and the sound was disappointing.

Then someone seemed to flip the "4K switch" and the theatre came alive.

The video was spectacular, as was the sound. All sense of digital grain was gone and the images were astonishing. The sound had far more depth and clarity than I had heard in a long time — certainly from a local cineplex.

While Bow-Tie does charge a few-dollar premium for its BTX theatre, it's worth it for the truly big-screen movies. But I like movies where there are plenty of spaceships, car chases and things blowing up. Big screens and great sound systems always make those movies worth a couple of extra bucks.

Eventually we will see 4K sets in our homes, but it will be a few years, I predict. The challenge is the lack of 4K content, plus the ability to deliver it to us. DVD players — even Blu-Ray — don't have enough space to store 4K movies and I think Cablevision would have a problem delivering that much content to people over its Internet services.

But I like going to the movie theatre and am quite happy to have the 4K experience from time to time. I can wait for a few years before it shows up in my home.

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 29 August 2012.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Sky-High Value of Curiosity

Early Monday morning, NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, landed successfully.

One of the most dramatic parts of the flight to Mars was the final seven minutes when the whole payload has to land, fully automated, with no input from Mission Control. NASA calls this the "Seven Minutes of Terror," and created a great video, which can be viewed at

I happened to be listening to NPR Monday morning, and to hear the people in Mission Control as each step along the way succeeded was truly heartwarming.

As I listened to the story, tears came to my eyes. I think of the hard work, years of dedication, obstacles, decisions and the risks inherent with interplanetary space travel that could have had just about anything go wrong. Yet it didn't.

I used to live just a few miles from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and even did some work for them, so I've been at the facility, in Mission Control — it's a lot smaller than you'd think — and even seen its Mars test area, where they try out their rovers. My daughter attended preschool with the children of these true rocket scientists. So JPL missions have a special place in my heart.

I have trouble comprehending the magnitude of an endeavor such as this. But I am glad we have people who can and do these sorts of projects. Curiosity is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and weighs close to a ton. That's all that's left after a liftoff, space travel for a few months, and numerous parts to deliver Curiosity safely to the surface of Mars.

Think of the thousands of people working on their parts, large and small, the engineering, the contractors and subcontractors, the quality assurance and testing. Makes any "large" project pale by comparison.

Yet, I connected with the engineers in their success at a job well done. While we all learn from our mistakes, it's fair to say that the successes are a whole lot more fun.

Now that Curiosity is on Mars, one of its jobs will be to start exploring and gaining more information about Mars. Already the photos Curiosity is sending back are stunning. While visually we will be receiving good information, the other devices and detectors on Curiosity will provide us with other valuable scientific knowledge that can only be gained by being on Mars.

Curiosity is a great reminder that we still have national skills in space exploration.

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 8 August 2012.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tablet Wars

The tablet wars are running fast and furious, and we as consumers will be the winners.

The "big kahuna" is the Apple iPad. It's the one to beat, and it's a formidable opponent. But it, like all Apple products, is a premium (read: expensive) product.

Some will argue that it's worth every penny and, as an iPad owner, I won't disagree.

But with the "old" iPad 2 starting at $399 and the "new" iPad starting at $499, it's certainly not for everyone. Note that the "new" iPad with all of the memory and cellular connectivity tops out at $829.

Other companies have produced tablets with limited success. Samsung, Asus, Microsoft, RIM (the Blackberry people), Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more all have tablets. Oddly, they all seem to be in the same pricing ballpark as the iPad.

I have seen some low-end tablets that actually cost under $100, but they have significant deficits, such as small screens, short battery lives, no cameras or a combination thereof that make them undesirable for all but limited use.

So when Google came out with its new Nexus 7 tablet for $199 about two weeks ago, that changed the landscape dramatically.

The specifications for the two tablets are not the same, so a like-for-like comparison can't be directly made. For one thing, the iPad has a 9.7-inch screen and the Google Nexus 7 has a 7-inch screen. There are other substantive differences.

But, for essentially half the price of an iPad, one can purchase a remarkably good tablet that will meet the needs of a vast number of people.

What one lacks with a non-Apple device is, of course, the App Store, where Apple users may buy music, videos, apps (applications) and more. With the App Store having hundreds of thousands of apps and things to buy, it is the place where one can buy just about anything digital that one wants.

Google offers a competitor to the App Store called Google Play. While Google Play doesn't have nearly as many apps as the App Store, most consumers will be able to find the most popular apps in both, such as Angry Birds, Netflix and the Optimum app.

What I like most about the tablet wars is that it's now been made clear that quality tablets can be made affordable. This will encourage broader deployment of tablets, thus driving more apps and more reductions in prices as competition and volume increases.

There are fairly well-substantiated rumors that Apple will be coming out with its own mini-iPad that may compete with the 7-inch tablets already in existence.

All of this is good news for consumers and heralds new ways that people can benefit from more accessible computing. Fight on, tablet makers!

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 25 July 2012.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Have Bicycle, Will Travel

Transportation has changed dramatically over the years. Cars used to break down far more often than they currently do. Now, they're remarkably reliable.

But until you have a driver's license and access to a car, it's thought that you're pretty reliant on other people for transportation.

But this year, my children have discovered their bicycles — and a new freedom. As I've said before, sometimes the low-tech solutions work really well.

This year, my 7-year-old son finally mastered his two-wheeler. It's taken a couple of years to be able to go more than about 10 feet without falling over ... and the inherent disappointment that comes with that.

But this year, after only a few practices, he found his balance and you just can't stop him now.

On a recent ride with him, we started by going to the end of the block. Then he said, "Dad, let's ride to Main Street," which is about a mile away. I agreed. Once we arrived, he said, "Dad, let's ride to the library." I agreed again. Then he said, "Dad, let's get frozen yogurt." Hard to argue with that boy.

We always wear helmets and try to avoid the main thoroughfares. Thanks to all of the drivers who provide us with ample leeway whenever we're on the road.

Pretty soon, we're going to be riding to Compo Beach and Longshore for some of our family events.

My daughter, 14, probably has a busier schedule than either my wife or me. More importantly, she is participating in two programs at schools on North Avenue. Driving her there and back is sometimes problematic from a scheduling perspective.

So we recently suggested that she ride her bike back and forth, two miles each way via residential streets.

So one weekend day, we did a trial ride, including our energetic 7-year-old son. With a map in hand, we rode all the way to North Avenue, letting my daughter navigate and timing our trip so we would know how long to expect when the "real" ride came the next day.

On the day of her first trip, she happily left our home with plenty of time to spare. About 20 minutes later, we received a phone call. Her chain had fallen off of a gear halfway to her destination.

I picked her up, delivered her to her destination, then discovered a few things wrong with the bicycle, so I took it to the bike shop for some minor repairs.

Monday morning, she left our home again and about 30 minutes later, we received another call. We were prepared for another breakdown call. Instead, she called to let us know she had safely arrived at her destination. Her happiness was great to hear.

So, with both of our children having their newfound mobility, it's good to see them growing up. Next is to show them how to maintain their bicycles, inflate tires, adjust shifters and all of the things that bicycle ownership includes.

My son also wants me to make him a ramp so he can show me how high and far he can jump. It may take me some time before I am ready to build that ramp.

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 11 July 2012.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What's That, Daddy?

Having been in the technology business for many years, I have accumulated a lot of mementos over the years. Projects I've worked on, products I've created, stuff I just can't or haven't thrown away.

But it didn't really hit me how much stuff is really old until my 7-year-old son saw something the other day and asked, "What's that, Daddy?"

What my son was looking at was a memento from a software project that had been created and published on 3.5-inch floppy disks. He had never seen a floppy disk before.

I tried to explain to him that it's how people used to move information from computer to computer and he was having difficulty understanding life without high-speed Internet access.

Later that weekend, he was really trying to get me to buy him a song from iTunes on his iPod Touch. We were in a rush and so I said we'd buy it when we arrived at our destination, which happened to be a restaurant.

When we sat down in the restaurant, I said I'd help him buy the song. His 7-year-old fingers quickly navigated the Touch screen to open up the iTunes app. But it wouldn't let us search for the song. His fingers then zipped to the Settings app, where he tried his best to find a WiFi signal.

In the end, he looked up at me and said sadly, "They don't have WiFi in this restaurant." Such disappointment. He had to wait until we returned home before he could buy his song.

As I think back on the technology that was new and leading edge in my younger years (i.e., punched computer cards, dial-up modems, teletypes, even fax machines) and compare that with what kids use today (i.e., mobile devices, high-speed Internet access, television on demand, Facebook and more), I marvel at how things have changed.

I wonder how much, if any, my children's world is better because they didn't learn about many of the things that make up my experiences. Of course, my grandparents probably wondered how my life is different because I didn't experience the Great Depression or World War II.

Ultimately, we are the result of our experiences. One day, I will probably sit down with both my daughter and son and talk about life and computing in "the olden days." While I do that, I'm sure they'll be texting or Facebooking their friends about how they're glad they never lived back then.

Another day, I may even throw out large chunks of my history. I already am lacking any computer that can read a 3.5-inch floppy disk. It won't be too many years before reading a CD or DVD will be problematic.

But when my children have children, I'm sure one of my grandchildren will look at a DVD and ask, "What's that, Daddy?" I hope I'm around to smile when my son has to answer the question.

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 June 2012.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thinking Big

I remember one of the things that intrigued me about the first software program I wrote was that I could get a machine — a computer — to do what I told it to do. Cool!

Without going into the old then-versus-now analogies, what has impressed me over the years is how technology has allowed people to do big things.

There are a few things that have allowed people to think big over the years:

First, computing is now far less expensive than it was years ago. The computing power of a multimillion-dollar computer decades ago is now in a mobile phone that costs under $100 per month. This has put massive technology in the hands of people who would never have had access to it.

Second, the Internet. For all of the good and bad things about the Internet, it connects the world. There are very few physical places where the Internet is not available. Oh, and for all intents and purposes, all digital devices — computers, phones and more — are connected to the Internet.

What this means is that the ability for people to have an impact on the world has changed. Where it used to be that only large, global media companies could touch people around the world, now people have the ability to do so.

So, whether one is wanting to communicate about new recipes, a personal event, a new product or overthrowing a government, anyone with an Internet-connected device can have a voice on the world stage.

That's thinking big.

Furthermore, anyone with some nominal programming skills can write an iPhone or Android app and make it available to people around the world. Whether the app is intended to make money for the author or not is almost secondary to the fact that the app can be put into the hands of people around the world. These apps can be funny, serious, intended for a broad audience or intended for a niche audience. But geography does not matter.

Many people with a simple idea have become known around the world. For example, the Angry Birds app.

That's thinking big.

With big thinking also comes responsibilities. In particular, when one puts oneself on the global stage, there are a lot of people who can see you and not only praise, but criticize you. As attractive as having a global audience might sound, it's not always as attractive as one might think.

But technology does allow everyday people to think big and act big. In many cases, great ideas that might never have an opportunity to see the light of day can now have their opportunity for greatness. So go ahead, give your big idea a stage.

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 June 2012.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What Good is Facebook?

Facebook had its Initial Public Offering less than two weeks ago. This was the first time that general investors could own shares in Facebook. The IPO valued the company at around $100 billion. Why?

First of all, I do not own any shares of Facebook, nor should anyone consider this to be investment advice.

But from a technology columnist perspective, Facebook offers all of the aspects that most people already know and love. This includes the ability to share one's status, comments, photos and videos of one's experiences. Facebook also allows instant messaging, status updates and other ways for people to communicate.

From a business perspective, many companies have stopped having websites (e.g., in favor of a Facebook page (e.g., This is happening mainly for small companies, but large companies are having a Facebook presence, too. Why? Because that's where people are spending their time.

Advertising is, of course, how Facebook is making most of its money. That's why Facebook is free to you and me.

But I believe that Facebook's value is not in what it is now, but in what it will become. It's clearly a platform on which people can build their personal and business lives and interests. And strong platforms can become fundamental value generators. Facebook seems to have done this quite well.

Remember, though, that there are some companies who have built platforms that have not been successful. Two in fairly recent history include America Online (AOL) and SecondLife. AOL built a proprietary world that was separate and apart from the Internet. It did very well for about a decade, but the proprietary platform has all but disappeared. SecondLife ( is a virtual world on the Internet. While it started out as a possible fully virtual world, with everything from shopping malls to embassies to countries in it, interest in SecondLife has dwindled over the years.

With each iteration of platforms, some people get it right. Facebook certainly seems to be on the trajectory for getting this right, attracting people and allowing extensions to the Facebook platform for where people can add their unique aspects.

Look for more and more interesting developments on Facebook. In five years, I doubt you'll recognize it as what it is now.

But also remember that Internet users are fickle. Quite literally with the click of a mouse, they can be off on another website where their friends and interests are.

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 May 2012.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Goodbye TV, Hello TV

Another nail has been driven into the coffin of this thing called a television. Or has it?

Within the past 30 days, Cablevision released its Optimum App for Laptops at It's available for Windows and Apple computers. This is a companion product to its mobile Optimum app that turns your Apple iPad, iPod Touch or Android device into another device on which you can watch movies and record videos.

What this app does is turn your laptop computer into yet another television in your home, as well as give you access to your digital video recorder in your home or at Optimum, let you watch live TV, schedule recordings and more.

I tried it on a couple of laptop computers in my home and it worked fine. It did not let me install it on a laptop with an external monitor, nor did it let me install it on a desktop computer.

According to Cablevision, this limitation is due to licensing issues because of the video signal that can traverse an unsecure cable from the main computer to the monitor. The point is that if a signal going from my computer to a monitor is not encrypted, anyone could copy and rebroadcast the recording without the owner's permission.

But what the new Optimum App for Laptops does is it allows any laptop computer to become a television. Already, you can watch DVDs on most laptop computers. The Optimum app already lets mobile devices watch TV on them ... so why do we need a large-screen TV at home at all?

I will continue to bang this drum that there are two reasons why TVs will continue to be a large part of our lives:

First, as humans, we need to spend time with others. Watching a TV show or movie as a family is a fun, enjoyable -- and I say essential -- part of being a group. Sitting on the sofa, having popcorn is a valuable experience. Having everyone watch their own small screen just isn't the same.

Second, sometimes entertainment is still better on a big screen with great sound. The opening weekend of "The Avengers," a group of my friends and I went to see the movie in IMAX 3D. It's not every show that we want the "big screen, big sound" experience, but this was one of those times. It was also a great human experience. I believe that large-screen televisions in the home will also continue to be attractive, especially as more entertainment comes into the home.

One of the limitations that is also present with the Optimum apps is that they work only in your home. If you're at a neighbor's home or on a trip, they won't work. Again, Cablevision confirms these are licensing rather than technical issues. I certainly hope that the lawyers and finance people are able to work out these issues, as the idea of "entertainment anywhere" is becoming more and more pervasive.

With all of these changes, I applaud Cablevision for continuing to provide these additional services at no extra charge. Please keep working on the licensing issues for content. They are solvable and worth the effort.

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 16 May 2012.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Westport "Maker Faire" a Showcase of Creativity

Many people — more than 2,000 by last count — attended last Saturday's Westport Mini Maker Faire. Produced by CLASP Homes as part of its 30th anniversary in partnership with the Westport Public Library, this was the first official Maker Faire event in Connecticut.

Intended as a celebration of creativity and innovation, the tent on Jesup Green, along the Saugatuck River and inside the Westport Library brimmed to overflowing with 60-plus "makers" who were showing what they make.

Some of the highlights of the fair included 3-D printers that will create in front of your eyes something that you have designed on your computer. There were also robots that could autonomously operate or be remotely driven by others to perform tasks, including shooting basketballs, much to the wild cheers of the crowds.

While there was much that was high-tech, there were many decidedly low-tech makers there, including a group of Cub Scouts, who were following the growth of an apple seed through its ending up as applesauce in a grocery store; the Green Village Initiative, showing how to make a raised-bed garden; a group creating paper flowers, one person who builds wooden canoes and more.

There were even people wandering around showing and teaching magic and an appearance by Gumby.

Two events included attendee participation: the Battle of the Homemade Bands and the Rube Goldberg Experiment. Both allowed a showcase of creativity for people who wanted to demonstrate their known and unknown talents.

Beyond what was shown, the Maker Faire brought together people from different backgrounds, experiences and ages. Specifically, the robotics area included five groups from five different towns and cities in Connecticut. These are high school students who worked together on their robotics projects, showing off what they had built and building friendships.

While there were plenty of "makers" at the fair, what was wonderful to see was the inspiration that was given to those in attendance. We repeatedly heard children saying that next year, they wanted to have something to show at the fair, or that they wanted to build something like what they had seen or that they wanted to try something that looked fun.

Look for more events that continue the fair's energy and excitement.

While this fair has the Westport name on it, it is clear that the reach is far beyond our town, that creativity and innovation knows no bounds and is alive and well in our community and country.

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 2 May 2012.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Taking Tech on the Road

Vacations used to mean leaving a lot of normal entertainment on the road. Advances in technology have, yet again, changed the very nature of traveling.

Traveling by car used to mean a never-ending series of "spot the license plates" or "find the letters of the alphabet."

Flying used to mean reading lots of books or having to watch whatever was on the small screen at the front of the section.

Boy, have those days disappeared.

Recent long-haul flights have indicated that while in-flight entertainment systems now give every person control over his or her viewing, many people are more comfortable bringing their own entertainment.

My unscientific eyeballing of the airline seats indicates that easily 50 percent of the passengers bring their own entertainment, whether that be in the form of a laptop computer and DVDs or a tablet with movies on it.

Similar things are happening to families on car trips. I bemoaned the installation of video screens in the back seats of cars so that the kids could watch movies while traveling. To me, car rides were endless hours of counting license plates from other states and other hugely boring travel games.

By giving car passengers the ability to have fun during the long hours in a car seems somehow humane to both the parents and the children. Ultimately, the same question of "Are we there yet?" will be asked. Nowadays, even the GPS being used to navigate will give the kids the ability to answer the question themselves.

Once you are at your destination, the technology used during the trip can also be turned to good use. Not only can having Internet access help you find out where to go and what to see, it can find you discounts, help you find out when something is open, and even know whether to carry an umbrella or not.

And for the downtimes in a hotel — or even a campsite — Internet access lets you select your entertainment such as watching a movie, updating your Facebook account or spending an evening watching YouTube.

I do miss the offline activities that we used to have in cars and in airplanes. Specifically, while driving and there wasn't much to do, we actually looked out the windows and saw things like mountains and rivers. We also learned how to read a map and figure out how far it was until the next rest stop. Oh, and how to find our way back to where we wanted to go when we were lost.

Now I find that in our cars and our hotel rooms, we typically find a good challenge in ensuring all of our electronic gadgets are plugged in. It's amazing how many devices even a small family can bring with them, the associated adapters and chargers and the lack of electrical outlets.

But with the changing world of travel, I much prefer traveling with all of my electronic gadgets. But I also appreciate the times I go "off the grid" even more when I go where I just don't have access at all. It makes the s'mores around the campfire even tastier.

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 18 April 2012.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Trouble With Tablets

Tablet computers are clearly all the rage. Unlike the "netbook" craze a few years ago, tablets seem to be on a sales trajectory that will continue to grow.

I love my Apple iPad. It turns on quickly, its speed on a WiFi network is very good, the apps are abundant and generally useful, it's easy to carry with me most of the time — and I look pretty darn good sporting such high-tech gear.

So, what's not to love?

First, they're expensive. The new iPad starts at $500 and goes to more than $800. You can buy a pretty sweet laptop or desktop computer for that. And it's hardly affordable, especially if you want one for everyone in the family.

To be fair, if you want to buy an iPad 2 — the previous version — they run typically $100 less than the new version.

The primary competitor to Apple iPad are tablets that run the Google Android operating system. These tablets tend to be a few hundred dollars less expensive, but are still pretty pricey.
A quick look at Verizon's website indicates that they offer tablets from $229 up to more than $700. Some of the tablets are available at reduced prices with a minimum two-year contract, meaning that along with the tablet itself, you'll have a monthly fee to connect it to the Internet.

There are some tablets I have seen that are just coming to the United States that are available for under $100. They're not very popular yet, but this is the direction that we need to see tablets going before they reach saturation.

Second, most tablets are hard to read in sunlight. The most notable example is the Amazon Kindle with its eink (see: displays. To date, eink displays have been primarily black and white, although they do have a color display that is starting to see its way into markets.

Third, tablets aren't really good for typing. This inhibits work such as emails, creating of documents and even spreadsheets. I do not see that the desktop/laptop computer with a keyboard will every actually go away, but if people think that the tablets and software currently available will become their "regular" computer, I would consider them to think again.

On the plus side for tablets, they do significantly change the computing paradigm. Due to their lack of keyboards, we now have a vastly different way to interact with our computers. This certainly enables more people to use computers that are not familiar with computers, keyboards or are not even literate.

Tablets also have opened up tools for entertainment, productivity and education that were not practical on computers with a keyboard. Sometimes a keyboard and a mouse are just downright clunky. Using one's fingers to gesture on the screen what to do is a very natural form of working.

So, as much as I like my tablet, I envision that I will like it even more as the software and hardware mature over the next few years. I will still not give up my computer with my keyboard, but when I go out of my office for a while, it's sure nice to take a tablet with me instead.

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 29 March 2012.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What I Don't Like About Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are great. It's rare I go anywhere without one — unless I want to go without one.

It's also probably not right to call these things "phones" anymore. They are truly mobile computers with a phone function. In fact, devices such as an iPod Touch are truly a mobile device that doesn't have a built-in phone function — you have to add it with an app.

But they sometimes drive me batty. Here are several reasons why:

1. We need really good voice recognition. Other than powering the device off and on, there are very few functions that should require one to touch the phone. Apple's new Siri is a good start, but there are issues about ambient noise, such as when one's in a car — perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for voice recognition on mobile phones — that need to be addressed.

2. Voice quality. I still find it much harder to carry on a good conversation on a mobile phone. Between the delays of voice and sometimes just plain terrible voice quality, mobile phones are not yet my primary way of making phone calls.

3. Screen visibility in sunlight. Looking at a phone screen in an office is pretty easy, but walking down a sunny street is a vastly different problem. There are some good screen technologies coming out that improve screen visibility in direct light, but they're still too hard to see. Back to another reason for good voice recognition.

4. Battery life. The old phone flip phone I had that was just a phone used to be able to run on a single charge for three to five days if I didn't use it much. Now, most smartphones I have used are lucky to go a full day without requiring a recharge. This requires buying either bulky batteries, constantly trying to find a place to charge up our batteries or carrying spare batteries. There has to be a better way.

5. Pricing plans. I still marvel at how expensive mobile phone plans are, especially for services such as adding WiFi hotspot and SMS messaging that provide huge profits. This is one area where I believe competition and products from companies such as Google and Apple that provide similar services free serve the consumers very well.

6. International pricing. As a corollary to the above, for anyone who has ever traveled internationally knows, using a domestic cell phone internationally typically runs up huge costs. Even with an "international plan", you will pay three to 10 times the price of a local user.

7. Stability. While Apple's tightly-controlled iPhone/iPad environment yields a quite reliable environment, all phones — including Android and Apple — can lock up and crash. So while we've complained about this issue for years on personal computers, it has made its way to the phone space.

8. Out-of-coverage use. While becoming less and less of an issue, when your phone is out of its coverage area, many functions simply don't work. This is because, despite all of the computing power of your phone, many functions are handled in a data center somewhere instead of on your phone. As coverage continues to get better, this is less and less of an issue, but it's still frustrating.

So, my love-hate relationship with my phone continues. And probably always will. I will continue to use it as it serves me, but will always keep in my mind that it, too, has its limitations.

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 14 March 2012.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Startups

Startup companies are one of the aspects of the American mentality that are great drivers of innovation. The ability for anyone with an idea to start a company is beyond the mindset of people in many other countries.

And while the odds of a startup being in existence — much less profitable — within five years are not good, the desire for people to explore the boundaries of what's possible has lead to some huge successes.

Some consider Silicon Valley in California and Silicon Alley in New York as being the hotbeds of innovation. While it's true that these are where many great ideas have been launched, creativity knows no geography.

While some consider a bad economy a bad time to start a business, the startup activity has been remarkably good. It's bad times that often drive people to think creatively and creativity drives innovation.

So I was very pleased when I heard about the upcoming Startup Weekend Stamford from Friday, March 30, to Sunday, April 1, at the Stamford Innovation Center. Think of this as a boot camp for innovators.

According to the organizers: "Startup Weekends are 54-hour events designed to provide superior experiential education for technical and non-technical entrepreneurs. The weekend events are centered on action, innovation, and education. Beginning with Friday night pitches and continuing through testing, business model development, and basic prototype creation, Startup Weekends culminate in Sunday night demos to a panel of potential investors and local entrepreneurs. Participants are challenged with building functional startups during the event and are able to collaborate with like-minded individuals outside of their daily networks."

A number of Westport residents will be assisting would-be entrepreneurs, including Peter Propp with Shore Communications and co-founder of FairCo Teem.

Asked about the Startup Weekend, Peter said, "The main thing is to give people the chance to work on an idea of their own or someone else's idea and then present it to experts who will choose a winner." Peter will be there assisting, as well as mentoring. "It could turn into a company, but it is mainly a chance to learn about the startup process," Peter said.

So whether you're considering a startup, know someone who has a great idea for a startup, want to find out more about how startups work or just want to see some incredibly creative people — and maybe the next Facebook — give some thought to attending this event. A few years from now, you may be able to say "I saw that company when it was just an idea."

Information on the Stamford Startup Weekend may be found at

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 22 February 2012.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Oblivious to Some Social Networks

A colleague's son recently graduated from college and is looking for a job. The son suggested that his father recommend him on LinkedIn, but my colleague thought a recommendation from a father might not be the best idea.

That's when my colleague's father turned to my 13-year-old daughter, who knows the son, and suggested that she recommend him on LinkedIn ( My daughter replied: "What's LinkedIn?"

I was surprised at my daughter's response. As an early user of LinkedIn for business, I thought everyone used LinkedIn.

Upon further reflection, my daughter has no use for LinkedIn. It's primarily a business tool for people to connect people to other people. And my daughter is in the eighth grade.

For my daughter, her social media life is taken up with two main social media sites: Facebook ( and Tumblr ( Her main use of the sites is that her friends are there and that's how they communicate with each other.

Her email account remains essentially unused. More than 90 percent of her digital communications with her friends is done through texting, Facebook and Tumblr.

The current most successful social media/social networking site is Facebook. With its expected $100 billion IPO coming up, it is clearly a social and financial success — especially for those with pre-IPO shares of stock.

As I started to think about the other social media sites that are out there, I recall a few that were huge (relatively speaking) just a few years ago, but have clearly languished in comparison to the big boys.
Remember Second Life ( It was a site where people could create an avatar (a digital image to be themselves — or a person they wanted to pretend to be — in a fictional, digital world). Some companies opened up stores in Second Life. At least one country talked about opening up an embassy or consulate in Second Life.

How about MySpace ( That has become the place for bands and performers to publish their music and performances.

What I find interesting is how both Second Life and MySpace were once the "gotta go to" places that controlled significant heft, they are no longer quite as compelling, especially for the masses.
While Facebook will continue to dominate the social media space for a few years, one thing I've learned is that in technology, nothing is unchangeable. Not only do the people and products change, but the companies behind them change. I just wish I knew what the next step would be. And I look forward to showing my daughter LinkedIn. Maybe even making her first recommendation.

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 8 February 2012.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Happened to the Videophone?

Growing up in Southern California, we enjoyed going to Disneyland more frequently than our friends and relatives who only visited from time to time.

My favorite area was Tomorrowland and one of my favorite exhibits was seeing the videophones.

For years, we would go and see the same exhibit. You'd sit in a booth while someone else would sit in another booth about 20 feet away. You could then talk to them while you saw them on a television screen and vice versa.

Every year, we were told that videophones were coming in our lifetime. We would be able to communicate with friends and neighbors around the world and see them as well as hear them.

But the technical hurdles were high. Televisions were expensive. The ability to send so much video information over far distances was also very high. I could only hope to see a videophone in my lifetime.

Then the world changed. The Internet happened.

All of a sudden, televisions not only became much less expensive, but not needed. We had computers with screens whose computing horsepower was rising dramatically while the cost per unit of performance plummeted.

Along with inexpensive screens, the ability to move large amounts of data became essentially free.

And so what entered are a number of services — many of them also free — that allow people to do what is now called a "video chat" on their computers. Skype is probably the best known of these software applications, but there are hundreds of others.

The strange part is that when I was sitting in that booth at Disneyland, I thought that when I had the ability to use a videophone, I would do it all the time. I don't.

I still make phone calls, but rarely do I use the video features. It's not just that picking up a phone is easier, but I don't always want to see the person on the other end of the line or even have them see me.

And while I in my mid-50s am not always the best indicator of what's hot with the younger generation, my 13-year-old daughter, who has a far more sensitive finger on the pulse of teen technology, doesn't use video calling much, either.

Sure, my daughter like to video chat with her friends. In fact, she uses the video calling features more than she uses a regular telephone.

Where I have seen video calling in popular use is among the young, digitally-connected companies who want do have video conferences to save on travel time and costs, and the occasional special call to someone to show off something.

I earlier reported that during a trip to China last summer, we were able to place a video call from the Great Wall to my brother in California so that his two young children could see what we were seeing. And the cost was zero.

While it's surprising how the reality of video calls hasn't turned out to be what we thought it would be, I can't say I'm surprised. It really is difficult to predict the future or how people will use inventions.

But now I want my flying car. When traffic on I-95 or the Merritt is bad, I want to unfold the wings and get on my way.
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 25 January 2012.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Want My (Private) Space

Growing up with Alan Shepard as the first American in space, then later literally watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, I am a child of a space exploration culture.

Going to the moon and beyond was what most children wanted to do growing up. Seeing the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" convinced me that I was going to fly into space on a Pan Am spacecraft.

Of course, Captain Kirk and the other Star Trek stories had me convinced that I wanted to explore the cosmos.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since my younger years. Cars still don't fly and neither are we able to go into space.

But the dream of space flight and space exploration continues.

When President Obama announced a scaling back of NASA last year, I was dumbfounded. How could we take a national treasure such as space exploration and slash the budget and "privatize" it?

It's taken me months before I can actually understand and kinda sorta agree with President Obama's decision.

The good news is that NASA will still work on very large, expensive missions, such as going to Mars. The bad news is that the Shuttle program has ended. We now rely on the Russians to transport crews to and from International Space Station.

What has brought me around to thinking that the decision to cut NASA's budget for "local" spaceflight might be a good thing is the Internet.

The Internet was originally a government project to connect colleges, universities and the government. While the core technology for the Internet was developed as the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Internet really took off when the commercial ventures became involved.

I recall when the Internet was struggling to decide whether commercial, for-profit (.com) domains should be allowed on the Internet. Previously, only .edu (education), .org (not-for-profit), .net (network providers) and .gov (U.S. government) domains were on the Internet.

When the commercial entities came to the Internet, its use quite literally exploded overnight and has continued to change our planet.

A number of companies have seen the opportunities for space businesses. These include Richard Branson who has started Virgin Galactic (, offering sub-orbital spaceflights to the paying public, and Scaled Composites (, also offering sub-orbital manned rocket flights through SpaceShipOne,  There's also International Launch Services (, a company that has been launching satellites into space since 1995.

In thinking about it, if NASA were the only player in the space business, the odds of me or my children ever going into space would be slim to none. With commercial ventures working on scaling space flight and gaining efficiencies in both safety and cost, I still think the chances of me going into space are slim.

But I would not at all be surprised if my children are able to affordably and safely take a ride into space or even to the moon in their lifetimes. What a wonderful experience that will be!

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 11 January 2012.