Thursday, January 01, 2009

My Household Technology Resolution

I have a new year's resolution for 2009.

This year I will somehow hook all these devices in my house together.

Why? Because this holiday season, my role in our family has expanded ten-fold.

I am now even more so the home technical support person.

This is a tiring role. One where my name is called or my cell phone rings at times when I am just not in the mood to answer questions.

And I am starting to rethink my approval of some of our Christmas purchase decisions. Here are some of the additions we have acquired over the holidays.

For well over a year, we have been saving up for a good high definition television. And since my Mother was coming to spend Christmas, and the TV we have researched was on sale in early December – we jumped in and bought it. A forty-two inch LCD Samsung.

So we also had to jump in and get the digital cable service – which on a special deal came with a digital video recording (DVR) function.

Just before Christmas – we got an awful good deal on a trade in for my old Chrysler Sebring to trade up to a Chrysler 300 limited edition. No money down and for the same payments as I was making on the Sebring – and in doing so, we bypass all the service that my Sebring was about to need.

Inside my 300 is a computer screen on the dash with a Serius Satellite radio (the service is free for the first year) and a thirty gigabyte hard drive and a USB port. So I have been loading the car with the MP3 music files my family has collected on our home computer and my lovely wife Darlene's IPod.

We had purchased a Wii last year, just before I had my knee surgery. And it certainly looks great on the forty-two inch Samsung HDTV. But I did have to completely reconfigure the WII settings. And Darlene got her hands on a WII Fit board, with the idea that our two little girls can be even more active when playing.

As well, Santa brought my little girls each a little MP3 player, and a kid's version of a digital camera. So they both now have music to download from the family PC to their MP3 players, and pictures to upload from their cameras to the family PC.

Since our family computer is a Media Center PC, complete with a TV tuner, and USB and Media Ports and an HDMI port, I have been trying to figure a way to connect the digital TV Cable DVR to the PC to share the recoded media on both the PC and the DVR with both the TV and my PC's Media Center.

I have had no luck yet.

As well, I am quite frequently called away from what I am doing, both at home or on the phone, to help my household dwellers switch from the TV to the DVD player to the Wii. Each requires fumbling with at least two remotes. And each conversation results in the family member I am supporting calling one or more of the devices "stupid".

As well, I have set my two little girls up with their own safe user accounts on the PC so they can upload and download music and pictures. But they haven't quite mastered the skills – which I am sure they soon will. But until then I am their customer support hotline person.

As well, even though our house has four televisions, the new HDTV is the one everything is hooked up to. Nobody else will watch the older ones.

No one but me that is.

I do love technology and how it is progressing. But right now my home is a techno-mess.

Even though the Wii connects to my wireless network, it wants nothing to do with my Media Center PC. The PC is downstairs and the HDTV is upstairs so my only way to make those two communicate is by very long cables running through my walls.

I hear the Xbox 360 does remotely work with the Media Center PC. But we didn't want an Xbox. We wanted the Wii.

Bluetooth technology was supposed satisfy this need to locally connect these home devices as long as they are within 30 feet of each other. But none of these devices, except my cell phone and my PDA use Bluetooth?

The Chrysler 300 in the driveway is just but an island to itself. You would think they would have WiFi'd these things by now. But not to my knowledge. Although there is Bluetooth technology available to make them talk to cell phones, my car doesn't have it … yet.

Nor does my car have GPS… yet.

There needs to be a home gadget standard, a common communication protocol that all these things can use to talk to each other in their own way. And the home WiFi 802.11 wireless network seems to me to be the most likely backbone for such a protocol.

My TV should be able to use my wireless network to detect that I have a Media Center TV downstairs – and allow a connection to access the media – like pictures, music, and home video.

My car with the thirty-gig hard drive should know that it is in range of my wireless network and also be able to synch its music collection to Darlene's ITunes collection on the Media Center PC.

But it doesn't.

As well, I should be able to configure all these devices from my Media Center PC – via the wireless network, rather than running around with USB keys and moving stuff around.

I thought this was the promise of the future ten years ago?

I thought we were going to see refrigerators that built shopping lists for you when the milk went bad and the last slice of cheese was eaten, that it would email to the grocery store that would deliver it to your house after automatically debiting the bill from your bank account?

But I still have to run to the bloody store for milk.

In the old days we had floppy disks that we used to copy data from one computer to another.

But then we got smart and we networked these office devices including our printers and even fax machines and photocopiers.

So why hasn't that same level of practicality extended into our homes yet?

And why are the user interfaces – the remote controls – and the setting screens on each of these devices so diverse and inconsistent? Why are they so hard for the novice user to learn to use?

If I had one simple remote control that I could configure on my wireless network to ask smart questions to the person using it:

"Exactly what would you like to do?" it would say. Below would be icons of a person watching TV, a person using an MP3 player, a person using a digital camera.

The person would put their finger on the icon of the TV.

"Would you like to watch Cable TV, Play a DVD?, or Play on the Wii?" it would ask next.

The person would click on the cable TV icon.

"Do you know the channel or would you like to pick a show from the guide?" it would ask.

The person would select the guide.

What's so hard about that?

Every device in my house should meet a standard test.

If a Grandma is babysitting the kids, can she play a DVD and then watch TV afterwards?

If a Grandma can use the technology, then it will be smart enough for my house.

Think of the new employment opportunities for the senior citizens that have outlived their savings.

But as it stands now, none of my gadgets can use or share information with each other unless I run around the house and driveway with a USB key. And I have to leave detailed instructions for babysitters who without the TV would have to actually sit and talk and play with my little girls.

The fact is this new technology is making me work harder. And technology is supposed to ease my stress and free up my time.

But it didn't work that way at the office. Why would I have thought it would do so at home?

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