The PC, at least the IBM PC, that became ubiquitous in the office and then the home, is now 25 years old. Yep, the venerable IBM 5150 was released in 1981. Sure, there were other personal computers before that – the TRS80, the Apple II – but it was when Big Blue entered the market that PCs moved from hobbyist plaything to legitimate business tool.
For many years the PC looked pretty much the same in its drab metal box. Later, companies released black and fluorescent color cases.
Techies have always made modifications to their cases (mods) and so occasionally you will see a see-through case or a NASCAR or Metallica logo instead of a bland gray box.
But the basic PC was pretty much unchanged for many years. A box housing the motherboard, drives and power supply sat on a desk and looked like all the others. Yawn.
With the explosion of TCP/IP and the Internet, the PC made a big push into the home. The definition of PC needed expanding. What exactly is the PC when you display images on your TV that reside on network-attached storage or play MP3s through your stereo system? Jim Louderback, editor of PC Magazine, asks, â€œWhatâ€™s the difference between a PC and a TiVo?â€ TiVos have memory and digital recording functionality. Are they PCs?
Personal technology, if not the personal computer per se, has become part of many of the devices we have in our homes. Smart homes share an Internet connection, as well as images, music and other files for easy access by family members. We can watch our kids or pets via Webcam as they play in the yard. Soon, with increased use of RFID (radio frequency identification) and smart devices our refrigerator may alert us when the milk goes sour.
Itâ€™s already possible to use a smartphone or PDA to turn on lights, turn up the heat or air-conditioning and start a load of wash while we are driving home. These advances will continue.
Louderback says, â€œBack 10, 15, 20 years ago the center of the computing world was the PC. Today itâ€™s about so much more. Itâ€™s about all the things you can do with it.â€
The next area to be deluged with tech is our cars. Louderback says, â€œThe way I look at cars, cars are basically rolling computers. All the things weâ€™ve been putting into our homes we are now putting into our cars. So whether itâ€™s GPS or advanced music systems or entertainment systems or computers, the car is just like the home. Itâ€™s just another way that we use technology.â€
Lifting the hood on a car used to reveal an engine that a handy person could tweak to make it purr. Now, a look under the hood can seem as strange as when a novice first sees the guts of a PC. Whatâ€™s a Gearhead to do?
Since 1996, the EPA has required cars to have an On-Board Diagnostics II (OBD II) interface located around the dashboard. Crawl around and you will see it. Davis Instruments sells the CarChip that plugs into your OBD II port and captures lots of information on your car and your driving habits. They include software that lets you use your PC to view and analyze the captured data.
The model I tried records up to 300 hours of trip details such as time and duration of each trip, speeds (logged every 5 seconds), idle time, hard accelerations, extreme braking and lots of other data you can choose to record like RPM, battery voltage and coolant temperature.
This data can be used in many ways. A parent can track how and when a teenager is driving. Too many jackrabbit starts, slamming on the brakes or speeding and you can take the keys away. With gas prices so high, you can use the 23 possible engine parameters that can be recorded to identify inefficiencies and potential problems.
Business owners may be interested in the CarChip Fleet model. You can track time in and out of trips, as well as safe driving habits. The data may prompt you to reward or punish employees. It can also provide useful information if a company vehicle is involved in an accident. And since it records connect and disconnect times, it canâ€™t be tampered with or removed without you knowing.
Of course car tech is for fun, too. You can keep backseat passengers happy with replacement headrests that play DVDs and video games on their built-in monitors. Vizualogic (www.vizualogic.com ) offers replacement sunvisors with a 7-inch screen so the front seat can join in too. With the optional camera you can monitor the backseat action. No more â€œIâ€™m not touching youâ€ battles between the rugrats. You can see who is pestering whom.
Beyond the multimedia fun is a real safety issue. On www.kidsandcars.org, Janette E. Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars, writes, â€œIn the U.S. 50 children are being backed over by vehicles every week. Forty-eight are treated in hospital emergency rooms and at least two children are fatally injured every week. These unthinkable tragedies are happening most often in the driveway of the childâ€™s home and in 70 percent of the incidents the driver of the vehicle is their parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or older sibling.â€
While backup sensors are â€œwidely used by anyone who tows a trailer: boaters, horse owners, work truck owners, race team drivers, etc.â€ Brian Torres, Vizualogicâ€™s vice president of business development, says that â€œWe also sell to many, many women who haul the most precious cargo of all – their kids.â€
Consider an add-on like Vizualogic HindSight, which, when reverse gear is selected, a camera sends a wide-angle view of the area behind the vehicle to you. Kids shouldnâ€™t be dying every week because of your big honking SUV.
As personal tech expands beyond the office, home and person to our vehicles be extra alert for the inevitable – the crazy driver talking on a cell, eating and now, watching a DVD.
Entreprenerd Dan Hanson (firstname.lastname@example.org) will be ready with reams of data if one of the traffic cams on Chester should send him a ticket.