I didn't write a column for last week's Pilot as we were away on vacation in the western regions of our country. On the trip, technology as usual came through for us. Our GPS was spot on and always got us where we wanted to go - they are commodity items these days - get one - I recommend Garmin.
I had my notebook PC with me, but I found that I had to use it much less than I thought as I had my AT&T Tilt phone with Internet and email capability. It is a lot lighter than dragging the notebook through airports and the TSA never seemed to question it as it was a cell phone, not a notebook PC.
I was also very impressed with a feature in my wife's camera. The "panorama" feature allows you to take a series of photos, spanning a long scene from left to right (or right to left also, as it turns out). The camera then automatically stitches the individual photos together to form a wide panorama. I had done panoramas manually in the past, and the stitching is usually difficult as the individual photos will vary in exposure settings, white balance, etc. The secret is to use manual settings and to keep them consistent for the entire series of photos. But her camera did it all automatically, and I can't find a seam in the end result. I was very impressed.
We came home late on Saturday night to find that Time Warner had updated our cable box software. The older software, called Passport, has now been replaced by Mystro. Besides new function, I read on the Internet that TW is attempting to roll this software out across the country to provide a more consistent interface when people move.
As usual, the ballyhoo was probably a bit overblown, but there are some nice new features.
The first thing that you see is that the new software looks better. Setup screens are nicer, transitions are smoother, and loading of on-demand content (movies, etc.) seemed to work much faster than the old box. Menus seem to be better organized and selection of settings seemed to be easier to use and specify. On the other hand, there is really not too much new and there are actually some things that are not an improvement. You access the new software by pressing the yellow "A" button. The red "C" button becomes the 'back" button when navigating menus.
The most major area of improvement is integration with the TW digital phone service (if you have it). If you receive an incoming phone call, the Caller ID information is now displayed in a window on the TV screen. My daughter near Charleston SC has had this feature for a while and I was looking forward to getting it here. You can also review the caller list on your TV. It is this type of thing that gives value add to the TW cable system; instead of just being two separate services (phone and TV) they are now better integrated.
One thing I noticed was that the old style Guide is (mostly) still there. One slight glitch is that when you are viewing the guide and you want to skip to a specific channel number, that channel number has to exist in your lineup, otherwise nothing happens. In the old software, I could skip to the HD channel area by typing in "900" although the first HD channel was actually 903. In the new box, you have to type "903" to get the same effect. No biggie, but a difference.
Searching for programs by name is actually a bit worse. The old software had a really cute feature in that when you typed a letter to start the search, any "next" letters that were not valid (i.e. that would not lead to selecting a valid show name) were immediately grayed out. When you used the cursor move keys to select the next letter, the grayed letters would be skipped over making it easier to select the next valid letter. In the new software, you can continue to select any letter, even if it does not lead to a valid program.
Performance seems to be an issue. There are times when the screen shows "Loading data" or "Please wait". My older cable box seems to do this more than the newer ones, so it may be a function of internal storage. I never had a prior excuse to upgrade my older box, but now I am going to on my next visit to Wilmington. It is a free upgrade, so if you are noticing performance issues with the new software as I did, you might want to consider doing the same.
It was nice to see that TW is not sitting on its old technology and is offering periodic upgrades. I can't wait until we get true 1080p resolution!
(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)