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Early Adopters Aren't Afraid To Make Most Of New Technologies

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Early Adopters Aren't Afraid To Make Most Of New Technologies

November 21, 2004

By Michael Prager

You probably know a family that has established a network at home to connect all its computers. Each person in the house probably uses the network to share broadband Internet access, the printer, maybe, or a few files.

What's far less likely is that you have friends who are using their networks to share entertainment: music, photographs, shows recorded from television, games, movies and more.

Unless you know someone like Paul Antico. Or Tracy Capone-Blake. Or Chris Martino. Or Seth Rubinson.

Heard individually, their stories might tempt you to be dismissive: Get a life, you might think. But together, the stories of these Massachusetts residents describe a trend, if not a movement, toward a future that's no longer somewhere over the horizon.

Not only do they use their computers to store their digital photos, they show them on their television when guests come over. Not only have they ripped their favorite CDs onto their hard drive, they can listen on the closest available speakers -- instead of being chained to the tinny ones that came with the computer. They can record a show on the TiVo machine downstairs, then watch it upstairs.

Ahead of the curve

These folks are of a type, people who seize upon new technologies -- in this case, faster Internet connections, faster computers and networking that's faster and easier -- to make machines conform to their lifestyles, rather than accepting their limitations. They're known as early adopters. Antico, 31, would certainly answer to that label.

Antico, who works for the Transportation Security Agency at Boston's Logan Airport, uses a combination of wired and wireless devices to form his network, but said he wasn't trying to push the electronic envelope when he started out. "I wanted to get things downstairs without having to string wires. I live in an apartment so that wouldn't have been easy. So I got the wireless router and put that in downstairs."

At first, it was just to connect his TiVo, the digital video recorder that also can direct content from storage (your computer) to output for audio (your stereo speakers) or video (your TV). Then he hooked in a laptop, which "became a great productivity tool for my wife, who's studying for her master's." Then he hooked up his Sony PlayStation so he could play games online, and later added his Pocket PC hand-held and Xbox.

Capone-Blake, 43, is a technical writer and editor, but worked in information technology for years. What she likes best about her network, which is similar to Antico's but also distributes content from DVDs and other video sources, is that she can retrieve information from any PC in her house, no matter where she is, and she can connect to a second printer if the first one is out of ink or paper. She also likes sending audio out to her deck, where wireless speakers can pick up signals almost 100 feet away.

The bulk of her network works on Ethernet cables, rather than with Wi-Fi (short for "wireless fidelity" and a play on "hi-fi," a previous generation's hot new technology). There are several types of Wi-Fi, but they are all based on industry standards that let devices speak to each other without wires.

Security concerns

Capone-Blake said she has reservations about the security of wireless communications, based on the "fact that I can walk downtown in the Financial District and start picking up networks" using a hand-held device.

Rubinson of Andover, Mass., said he has been a computer enthusiast since he was 9, "but didn't want to end up in a cubicle" working in IT, so he went into law. But he still revels in the digits. He has combined three computers, two TiVos, a Palm Tungsten C hand-held, and several printers into a wireless network. He shares Capone-Blake's concern, and said his first advice for new networkers would be "to take the time to learn about setting up security properly.

"The manufacturers are selling the equipment so the lay person can plug it in and go, but people are at substantial risk" if they don't activate firewalls and other impediments to people who would try to steal personal information by logging into an unprotected wireless network, he said.

Rubinson shares recorded programs between his two TiVos, and uses the devices' Home Media Option, a software add-on, to direct photos onto his home's video monitors or MP3s onto the home stereo. He also likes the option of wirelessly syncing the data on his hand-held organizer with his computer desktop.

Exploitation is fun

Martino, meanwhile, is exploiting his network in ways you would expect from a software engineer. He's got four computers working, including a Linux-based file server and a laptop PC. He plays on a Nintendo Game Cube, has a Replay TV digital video recorder, a Turtle Beach Audiotron MP3 player, and, to top it off, Internet phone service from Vonage.

"We still have local telephone service, but just until we can transfer our number over. Vonage doesn't have our exchange yet, so until that happens we have the cheapest service possible from Verizon," said Martino, 26. Phones plug into devices on the network and calls are carried on the Internet.

It should come as little surprise that Martino, Rubinson, and the others don't consider their networks complete; they're eager for a product's price to come down -- Martino's waiting on HDTV, for example -- or for the next technological bar to fall. "I think there's definitely room for improvement to make these things seamless, so you don't need any external devices," Rubinson said. "There's a long way to go before the average Joe can plop one in their house and be up and running."

When that happens, everyone else will join the early adopters.

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