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TALES from the FRONT PORCH

Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, November 17, 2005

New technology boon to grandparents

Modern technology has come to the aid of grandparents. That's what Valle and I have decided.

We can make weekend trips to Champagin, IL. to see our grandson, Eli, like we did recently. We took off following Valle's alst parent teacher conference at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night and drove straight through, arriving at Peter and Erin Cornish's house six hours later at 2 a.m. On a normal weekend, however, it would be half a day of driving for a day and a half of grandson time. That's something we can't handle too often.

There is a substitute for some Eli time in person available now and Valle and I have been working to perfect the next best thing. At Eli's age, the telephone is not a very good substitute. We can hear Eli make some noises, but it's hard to know if we are communicating at all when we speak back. When Eli gets older, e-mailing may work to be able to communicate back and forth, but when he can't read or type, that alternative isn't very good either.

But modern technology has come up with a way we can see and talk to the Cornish branch of the family when we are miles aparet, and Valle and I are trying it out. It still has a way to go to be just what the doctor ordered, but it's a close enough second that we are pleased.

Wea re using Apple Computer's I-Sight system, which has a camera attached to the computer so we can video conference back and forth. There on our computer screen we can see and talk to the Cornishes, while we see a small, picture-in-a-picture on our screen of what our camera is sending. In Champaign, IL, Erin, Peter and eli see a screen sized picture of Valle and me with the picture they are sending in a small box on their screen. It's kind of like Dick Tracy's wrist video phone only better.

The cameras we are using are of two types. Peter and Erin have a new computer with the camera built into the top of their computer monitor. To glance at the monitor, one might not notice a camera was there. It's a small spot on the top of the monitor. One has to tip the whole monitor to change the camera angle. Valle's and my computer is old enough that it does not have a built in camera. We instead have a camera that is hooked to a port on the computer and which can be attached to the top of our monitor. It looks a little like a miniature toilet paper tube with a lense. The lens can be opened for use or closed when not in use, or the camera can be unplugged from its computer port.

There are still some things which could be improved. Because we are not both on our computer all the time, somehow we have to contact the other party and tell them we would like to chat. That just means a phone call, however, which is just long enough to pass the message along that we would like to visit over the computer line.

The picture quality is not as clear as a television signal or the way things look on the screen is the demonstration program. We are working to improve the lighting in the room with the computer because we understand that can help. The picture that we see is not jerky like the reports on television from faraway places made by videophone. The picture moves along smoothly as the person talks or moves in front of the camera. Right now, however, the picture is not as crisp as one would like. It is clear enough to easily recognize who you are talking to and what they are doing, but the picture is not crisply focuses. We dont' really want Eli to believe that his grandparents are fuzzy looking. On second thought, I guess being known as fuzzy and warm might not be all bad.

On the plus side, there's no extra charge to talk as long as we want to on the hookup. We are using the computer line instead of a telephone line and there's no extra charge for using the computer hookup for as long as we want. This makes it easy to talk often and for as long as we want to.

Of course using the video system ties one down to being seated in front of the computer. You can pan the camera around the room a bit, but you must be in the camera's view range to be seen. And to see the person you are talking to you have to be able to view the screen. You can't be mobile and multi-tasking like you can with a telephone.

One hopes that the video feed isn't being taped off somewhere to be used for America's Funniest Home Videos. Moving around making faces and waving to try to get Eli's attention would probably look a bit silly if shown back as a video. But what's a grandfather to do if not embarrass his children and grandchildren from time to time? we've had fun trying so far. And we've enjoyed tryingout new technology to do it.

It looks like it will be Thanksgiving before Valle and I get to see Eli in person again, and that won't be too long now. But thanks to new technology we can get our Eli fixes over the Internet lines until we see him in person.

Ah, the joys of being a grandparent in the modern age.

To contribute to "Tales from the Front Porch: Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project"
contact Sharon R. Becker at
srbecker@windstream.net.
Please include the word "Ringgold - Front Porch" in the subject line. Thank you.


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