Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Google Glass and Other 'Wearable' Technologies

We are taking more and more of our technology with us nowadays. It's generally called "wearable technology."

I wouldn't say smartphones are "wearable" because we really still carry them with us. But one of the most visible pieces of wearable technology is Google Glass (www.google.com/glass).

Google Glass works like a set of eyeglasses, although it doesn't replace glasses. Instead, it augments them, and you don't have to wear glasses to wear or use Google Glass.

Google Glass provides you with the ability to talk to and use the Internet (mainly Google) in your everyday life without having to find and touch your smartphone, laptop or desktop computer.

A friend of mine has one of the first releases of Google Glass and I was able to try it out recently.

Essentially, it looks like a pair of optical frames, but without the lenses. On the right side of the frame is what looks like a prism, which is a heads-up display, essentially projecting a screen in front of you that only you can see.

Interacting with Google Glass takes a couple of forms. First, you can touch it, much like a touch pad on a laptop computer or a tablet. One stroke turns it from idle to on. Another stroke serves as the "Next" or "Back" functions.

But when Google Glass is active, you simply say "OK Glass" and it waits for your next command. You can then ask a question, such as "What is the weather on Thursday" or you can say "take a picture" or "record a video." Glass will do what you say, within limits, of course.

Google Glass is probably not going to be a mainstream product as it exists now. As amazing as it is, it's quite limited in what it can do. But what it does demonstrate is how powerful, light and portable these technologies can be.

More technologies that truly become part of what we wear every day are becoming available. UnderArmour, the athletic-wear company, has some pretty exciting ideas in mind. Specifically, clothing that not only monitors your vital signs (heart, respiration, blood pressure and more), but can also change colors (a fashion aspect) and provide either heat or cooling, as needed.

The UnderArmour technologies still are mostly in the "visioning" stage, meaning they're not ready for consumer products yet, but they are certainly well within the reasonableness of future products.

Other companies already are providing wristbands that can monitor exercise and distance traveled, along with heart rate and blood pressure. These go into software that can not only keep track of your exercise regimen, but also track your progress. These are key ingredients to an effective training program.

The miniaturization and consumerization of technology are providing more and more opportunities for us to have technology become part of our daily lives — not just for sending messages to each other or being entertained. And most of us will like this newfound connection with technology and the value it provides.

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 May 2013.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Creativity in Many Forms Makes Maker Faire a Success


Last Saturday saw not only perhaps the best weather of the year, but also the second annual Westport Mini Maker Faire, a one-day, family-friendly event that celebrates arts, crafts, engineering, food, music, science and technology projects and the do-it-yourself mindset. It's for resourceful, creative people who like to tinker and love to make things.

The faire featured the following events and activities:

The Nerdy Derby, a Pinewood derby with no rules. People build cars out of wood, paper, foam or whatever is handy. The entire supply of 400 kits were used.

Caine's Arcade, based upon the experience of a young boy in East Los Angeles who builds arcade games out of cardboard boxes. At this weekend's event, children built foosball tables, pool tables, skeeball games and more — all out of cardboard, tape and other donated items. And the kids played with them as much as they would have a professional machine, maybe even more so because they built the games themselves.

A high school student demonstrated his blacksmithing skills. The typical bellows to keep plenty of oxygen to the fire was replaced by an electric leaf blower. Yet, the blacksmith was quite able to pound tools out of red-hot steel.

Two $1,000 grants were given. One to two high school students who had designed and built an underwater propulsion system for SCUBA divers, and the other for a student here in Fairfield county who is working to create a solar oven for impoverished countries. The Awesome Foundation of Connecticut gave out the first grant and the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club, in combination with the Westport and Norwalk Rotary clubs, gave out the second.

3D printers abounded. Not only were there entry-level 3D printers in abundance, but some midrange Stratasys printers were on display in the Great Hall of the Westport Library, while Shapeways (a 3D printing service bureau) representatives demonstrated how items can be output in exotic materials such as stainless steel and porcelain.

While many of the makers emphasized technology, there were a couple of young girls who demonstrated how to make candies on a hot plate. Another maker used old comic books to make art. And still another maker demonstrated the art of violin making.

More than 40 students from Westport schools participated and students from at least five other school districts were showing off what they had made.

Dignitaries that attended the opening ceremonies included Congressman Jim Himes, Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, state Sen. John McKinney, and state Reps. Jonathan Steinberg and Gail Lavielle. They together delivered three proclamations and citations, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy declaring Saturday as Maker Day in Connecticut and Joseloff declaring Saturday as Maker Day in Westport.

It's gratifying to see the interest in creativity and innovation are alive and well in Connecticut.

Editor's note: Mark Mathias is the founder and co-chairman of the Westport Mini Maker Faire.

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 1 May 2013.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Computer Conundrum: Desktop, Laptop or Tablet?

When personal computers came out, there weren't too many choices. It would sit on a desk. Then came the portability of laptop computers, which gave people additional choices, albeit typically with less horsepower than a desktop computer.

Most recently, we've seen the advent of tablets, primarily in the form of the Apple iPad, although there are quite a few contenders.

I'm frequently asked: "What should I buy? A desktop, laptop or tablet computer?"

As with most difficult choices, there are no simple answers.

First, I use all three and typically carry both a laptop computer and a tablet with me when I am out of my office.

The quantity of desktop computers I use has diminished greatly over the years. But I find I still use them for functions that require significant amounts of CPU and disk space. For me, this means video editing. For others, this may be database work, large spreadsheets or other computationally intensive tasks.

Other functions of desktop computers include situations where you want to add multiple monitors, although most laptop computers nowadays come capable of supporting two monitors without adding anything other than a second monitor. Desktop computers also have more expansion slots in case you want to add additional ports, such as USB, FireWire, video or other components.

Furthermore, desktop computers still give you the most "bang for your buck" than laptop or tablet computers, meaning that if you don't need mobility, a desktop computer is your best value for your money.

Second, I think all three — and more — types of computers will continue to be prevalent. I've already mentioned how desktop computers are great for cost-effective computational power. Laptop computers provide great mobility with good horsepower. Tablets provide a very portable device, but are not yet ready for everyday use, especially in the area of content creation, such as reports and spreadsheets.

Third, there are even more platforms coming out. Smartphones are up-and-comers, and with a new category called "phablets" —   combination phone and tablet that is really a phone with a really big screen, especially those from Samsung —  he distinction between each type is blurring. And remember Dick Tracy's wrist radio that included a two-way video-calling feature? We're not far away from that.

The biggest challenge I see with the tablets, phablets and other similar devices is their lack of input device, aka a keyboard. And voice recognition is still a few years away. Almost all tablets allow the addition of a keyboard, but then the weight and size end up being close to that of a laptop computer.

But tablets have done an excellent job of making touchscreen interfaces real. We're also starting to see much of this touchscreen work its way back into systems such as Windows, with its Windows 8 operating system. Because Windows 8 is trying to help Windows compete with tablets, we're starting to see a number of laptop and desktop computers that have touch-sensitive screens and applications.

So, one day, I hope that when I travel, I will have fewer digital devices in my bag, but right now, I travel with a laptop computer, tablet and "phablet." The combined total weighs less than some of the early "portable" computers I had, so I'm glad for that, but my dream for a single, lightweight device continues to be a dream.

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 1 May 2013.