Communication - multidimensional

FTLComm - Tisdale - Friday , May 26, 2006



Last Saturday we were at our grand daughter's birthday party in Regina. Andrew, our middle son was in Winnipeg, unable to attend the event but he still wanted to be part of the celebration. So his brother simple brought out his laptop computer, an older Mac Powerbook, hooked up a video camera and Andrew, sat in his living room in Winnipeg and watched the party, talked with us as though he were there. Andrew has a new MacBook Pro which has the iSight camera built in.

The first two pictures on the right were taken by Andrew of the event, that is what he was seeing. My camera sitting on a tripod and Aurora enjoying her first birthday party.

What made this possible is Apple's iSight camera which is built in to all new Mac computers and the software called iChat which is actually the Apple version of AOL's AIM. It works and works well Mac to Mac, Mac to PC, all at full screen resolution and perfect sound.

Aside from the hardware, the software and the service is free. All you need is an Internet connection and your talking. This is not brain surgery it is a simple solid form of communications.

We have been using iChat since it was first introduced as part of the Macintosh operating system and my family bought me my iSight Camera to go with the new Macintosh G5 I got for my birthday in December 2004. My dad got his iSight for Christmas that year and we have been visiting online ever since, usually about half an hour a day. I have other friends who use this system of keeping in touch and my wife's new iMac has the camera built in and we use it nearly every evening during the week as she works away from home.

Actually us don't need to have a camera to make use of this technology but with AOL's AIM one of the two parties communicating needs a camera as the codec relies upon the video to work. This is a better system than Microsoft's Messenger as it is just easier to use and is not as intrusive as Microsoft.

In order to use Apple's iChat with multiple connections you require a very solid Internet connection and Andrew's access is excellent so it has become routine for he and I and his mother to visit together online using the video connection that you see below. It is interesting to note that while using this communication method we still access the web, send and receive e-mail and have an iChat text window open to send URLs back and forth or files as we discuss a topic.

This is one great leap beyond telephony and we use it within the family and with friends on a daily basis. My brother does not have a camera on his computer but we use the audio format and that works just fine. I am hard of hearing and with the sound coming through a stereo system in the office it is no problem for me to carry on a conversation.

The other day I received a telephone call on our SaskTel phone and the call came from a customer in Sri Lanka. We talked for about twenty minutes about the progress we are making on his web site and the cost of this international telephone call was 23¢. My customer uses Skype. I have signed up now for the free service which gives me computer to computer calls all around the world but in North America it also gives me computer to land line and cell phones. This means with this service long distance charges for me are a thing of the past.

Meanwhile in Regina my youngest son was fed up with the high costs of a SaskTel telephone and long distance charges. He is a Cable Regina Access customer so he has an excellent Internet connection and two weeks ago he packed up his SaskTel account for good and has a new telephone number. It is an area code 306, Regina telephone number but he has no connection to SaskTel. He has signed up with a company which provided him with a little connection box. The box is connected to his Internet router and he connected the telephones in his house to the box. He can telephone anywhere in North America with no long distance charges and the cost for the service including the connection box is $29 a month. So for half the cost of a SaskTel telephone connection and a "bundle" he is getting his telephone service via voice over IP.

There are a number of companies now offering this kind of service but you pretty well have to live in one of Saskatchewan's major cities because they only give out city numbers. So I could use this kind of service but I would have a Regina telephone number and calls to me from someone in Tisdale would actually be long distance call. So for right now I will stick to iChat and Skype.

It is easy enough to understand why I consider this technology as a major revolution in personal communications. The other night I needed help with a problem on a web site I am working on and reached Andrew via iChat and we began working together, collaborating much in the same way we would have done were we both in my office only he was in Winnipeg and I was in Tisdale. The problem involved how a web page appeared on a machine running Windows XP as compared with my Mac G5. We were able to talk about the problem, try solutions and do research as we worked it over. he talked to me on his Laptop and with its wireless connection picked it up and walked into his computer room and tested the solutions on a Windows XP computer. We found that the problem was not easily solved and while I tried out various different ways of handling the issue Andrew went to an expert page on the web to see what other ways there were of handling the problem. He passed me code using the iChat text window and then tried out a solution on the Regina server. Both of us accessing the web server remotely and testing our solutions on different computers all while talked about what we were doing. After about an hour we had a working solution to our problem.

Remote collaboration using face to face communication gives us the ability to work as we never have before and in many ways is ending our reliance to be in a location to do a job.

I did not finish this article Friday afternoon and I am completing it here in LaRonge. This morning my father called up (below) using iChat from Regina and he, my wife and I, sat here visiting for about half an hour this morning. Our lives connected with the use of visual and audio communication is making distance vanish.



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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
Faster Than Light Communication
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