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.