The Goddess of Gadgets

February 2006

OK, here’s the most striking fact about my colleague Diane Dumas, the Gadget Goddess: she can watch cable TV in the dashboard of her car. And I’m speaking of cable TV — the sort that usually requires a coaxial cable connected to a TV.

She works for Fairfield-based Smartphone and Pocket PC magazine (which I write for part-time), and if you want to see the future, follow her around.

The first time she blew me away was when she took out her Pocket PC and said, “Jim, I want you to see this.” On her device she had a page listing the local Mediacom channels. “Which channel would you like to watch?” she asked. I opted for ESPN, and there on her Pocket PC was the live broadcast of ESPN, with full-motion video and sound.

So how does it work? Her Pocket PC was connected via the company’s wireless network to her computer at home. Her computer was connected to her cable TV and used some free software to “stream” live TV to her device.

For Diane, it’s not just a lark — it’s serious business. She’s a serious fan of the Sci Fi Channel. She often has to travel to trade shows, and if the hotel doesn’t have the Sci Fi Channel, she gets desperate. But now she can have it wherever she is. If the hotel doesn’t have it, she can simply start up her laptop and get her science fiction fix.

The free software that allows this was developed by Orb Networks and is available at www.orb.com. You download the software and install it on your PC. This makes the media on your PC — music, videos, TV, photos — available via your free My Orb account.

You can then view that media via a wide range of devices and computers, as long as the device has an Internet connection, a web browser to access the My Orb site, and a media player such as RealPlayer or Windows Media Player. While the software that you download to the base PC is only available for Windows XP (Mac version coming soon), the devices that connect to it include Macintosh and Linux computers, PDAs, and cell phones.

This service is sometimes simply used by people who have a home wireless network and want to access the media on their computer from any room in the house via their Pocket PC or laptop. And then there are those like Diane, who want all their media wherever they are — including in her car. More about that in a moment.

A regular PC will work as the base computer, and you will be able to access the music and video and photo files on that computer. You simply go the My Orb web site, log in to your base computer, and then you’ll see all your files listed. Click one, and it plays.

If you want to stream TV channels, then you need to have a Media Center PC. These have a connector that lets you plug in your cable TV. People use their Media Center PCs to simply watch cable TV but also to record programming in the same fashion that a TiVo does.

All this is pretty cool, but the Gadget Goddess always takes things a step further. First off, she has a full-blown Windows XP computer built into the dashboard of her car. The Gadget Goddess did this herself. Is this woman obsessed or what?

Her dashboard PC has a touch screen with large icons, so there’s no need to use a mouse. One major use of her dashboard PC is music. She has transferred her collection of music files to her dashboard PC, and with a touch of the screen, can listen to her favorite music.

That’s nice and convenient, but there are some pretty practical uses, too. She also uses it for GPS. By now you likely know that that stands for Global Positioning System. Using GPS, she can specify a location that she’s driving to, and her dashboard PC will tell her how to get there, literally speaking out the directions as she travels. It also has an onscreen map that shows her location as she drives. It may have saved her life when she got caught in a blizzard recently.

And here’s the clincher for the Gadget Goddess. She can establish a Bluetooth wireless connection between her Pocket PC Phone and her dashboard computer, and use her Cingular data capability to provide Internet access to her dashboard PC. And (not while she’s driving) she can watch the Sci Fi Channel in her car via Orb.

© 2006 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D

E-mail Jim Karpen