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.