Unwired at home

“I have nothing at home, nothing!” trumpeted Jordan Worth. “I’m on the Internet and e-mail all day long, it’s what I do, so the last thing I want to do when I go home is have anything to do with computers.”

Worth, a computer-savvy expert who spends his daylight hours as an analyst with IDC Canada, made no attempt to conceal his glee.

“Ah, the all-encompassing world of technology,” he said with a hint of sarcasm. “I have a TV and a VCR but no cable, nobody calls me at home…I have a cell phone but it’s rarely turned on…I’m incredibly conscious of technology, but at home (the connection) is too slow and besides, it’s simply too much information.”

Worth spends an average of eight hours per day on-line. By the time most people are finishing off a bowl of Corn Flakes, Worth is finishing off surfing 35 to 40 Web sites looking for news pertinent to his role with the Toronto-based technology analysis firm, a job he has held for just over two years.

“I love technology – when it works well and suits your needs,” the former CBC researcher said. “I rarely surf for fun anymore…my day is consumed by vast quantities of information and personally I need to find a happy medium.”

Bryce Lynn doesn’t share the common view of home computing. In fact, he doesn’t bother to consider it at all. The hosting engineer for San Francisco-based Organic Online Inc. – an interactive media and Web development firm – admitted he hasn’t owned a home computer since he left high school.

“The last computer I owned was a Commodore 64,” Lynn laughed. “I’ll get around to buying one (a home computer) sooner or later…I guess I just never stop to think about it, I’d rather ride my motorcycle and go out to bars.”

Perhaps it should come as little shock that Lynn doesn’t bother with technology after hours. After all, although he has been a computer-geek for most of his life, Lynn looks more like a starting linebacker for a pro football team than he does the stereotypical IT-whiz.

“I used to be heavy into playing video games,” he offered almost apologetically. “But I got out of that.”

home power

Suggest surfing the Internet for fun to either Lynn or Worth as an after-hours exercise and you can almost hear them cringe over the telephone. There’s no unwinding over a laptop and a mocha java in their households. Accruing a formidable home system seems the farthest wish from their minds.

“I’m an avid cyclist, I love to cycle,” said Matthew Bates. “People keep telling me how beautiful the Maritimes are so that’s where I’m headed to cycle next.”

Bates is the founder and brain trust of Mystus Interactus, a Toronto-based company which specializes in designing and developing interactive exhibits for an array of museums and art galleries. Although he doesn’t have a home computer system per se, he said his studio is his home and that he’s well equipped with five PCs linked together.

“Because I do exhibits I end up taking computers apart so I know a little about the technology,” he explained. “I usually buy no-name brands and have them custom made…I want a particular configuration…the off-the-shelf models have a good warranty but I find there’s too much baggage, extra stuff that I don’t want and I tend to trash anyway.”

Bates said his-five PC network – a Pentium 133, 350, 400, 600 and a late-model Toshiba 133 laptop – are strung together in an unconventional fashion. He admitted to surfing the Web on occasion for necessities such as booking travel arrangements, but home technology for fun and/or convenience? Perish the thought.

“I do miss the technical support that comes with a new computer system,” he said. “But, I usually just hack my way through it.”

Don’t get the wrong idea. These IT professionals love their jobs and they are avid followers of new and ground breaking technologies in their own respects. But as Ron Walker, academic team leader for Sir Sandford Fleming College’s applied engineering and computing sciences department in Peterborough, Ont., pointed out, it all boils down to a question of time.

“The big thing with getting new toys is finding the time to really figure them out and have fun with them,” said Walker, who boasts a home theatre system that could rival a small movie cinema and four PCs linked by 10-baseT, category five wiring. Moreover, the networked system – one terminal for each member of his family – shares Internet services via a cable modem which runs through his computer (a Pentium MMX system). An Ethernet connection with a 10Mbps hub connects the remaining three units including his wife’s 500MHz Pentium – the most powerful in the Walker abode.

“My wife is more computer-centric than I,” he remarked. “I avoid computers in my private time as much as possible but I usually find myself cast into the role of technical support at home.”

Within the scope of this article, Walker emerges as a rarity. Despite his lack of desire to surf the Internet for kicks (a trend in the IT community evidently), he oversees Sir Sandford Fleming College’s smart house demo and will be spearheading his department’s new smart house application course in the fall, and his prowess with technology has made the jump from work to home.

“I’m constantly and incrementally upgrading my house,” he said, sounding more like a nouveau Tim Allen than a college instructor. “Smart house technology has certainly got my attention at the moment.”

unused expertise

But other technology-savvy individuals appear to find strength in shunning their livelihood when away from the office.

They fall back on explanations such as: “Well, I already sit in front of a computer X number of hours per day,” but it still seems like a strange choice. These people have the connections and the experience to rig up a veritable supercomputer network at home with unlimited Internet access and all the bells and whistles the rest of us can only dream of having. Moreover, they probably can put it together at a reduced cost, if not for next to nothing at all. And yet, watching TV or riding a bike or going out for a pint of ale is the choice of the wired generation. What gives?

“Hey, anytime you end up with three remote (TV) controls, you’ve crossed the line into high technology,” countered Shannon Ryan, president and CEO of Ottawa-based Buystream.com, another example of an IT professional who lives as a virtual Luddite at home. “Internet surfing (for fun) is out of the question…I’m surrounded by computers 12 to 14 hours a day, I enjoy doing more off-line activities like photography.”


“Yeah, I’ve got my own darkroom and I shoot a lot of cityscapes and graffiti scenes,” Ryan said. “I’m compiling the shots – mostly black and white – and hopefully I’ll host an exhibition of my own in the future.”

Worth suggested the physical mechanics involved in building the multi-PC home system of his dreams is a cumbersome ordeal.

“There’s more talk than actual implementation (of home networked systems),” he said. “My guess is it’s not a simple thing to do. Trying to coordinate across several PCs in a house can be tough logistically…there’s different hardware, different software, various protocols and devices, plus you’re continually dealing with inter-operability problems.”

If that’s so, then Greg Michetti is either a crafty home networking guru or a man with a love for self-inflicted mental anxiety. Regardless, the president of Michetti Information Solutions Inc. in Edmonton absolutely loves home technology. He relished the challenge of setting up his three PCs and configuring them accordingly.

“I’m running a Compaq P3550 which is networked with an older Pentium 200 and a Pentium 150 and I put NT 4.0 on it to use as a proxy server so everyone in the house has Internet access,” he said. “I think in this industry it’s required to put in a couple of hours of homework at night by surfing the ‘net and seeing what else is out there.”

True, Michetti is not a coder or a hosting engineer. Nor is he required to build a Web site or write new software programs every day, but his company provides IT professional services to enterprises such as strategic IT planning, project management, and database design and implementation. But like most of the modern-day working class, Michetti is subjected to a computer screen nearly all day long and it hasn’t soured his love for all things that go blip and whir in the night.

“We live and breath IT in my house,” he said. “My son is pretty geeky that way too…technology is something he discovered on his own but I’m sure the facility at home in the basement helped encourage him.”

easier than it was

Doug Cooper, marketing manager for Intel of Canada Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., said SOHO and home networking products are a growing phenomenon in Canada. Furthermore, implementation is not as cumbersome as it once was, he said.

“Dragging wire around the house is no way to spend an afternoon on the weekend,” Cooper agreed. “There are lifestyle issues to consider and traditionally setting up these systems was a bit of a daunting task…but if you can connect a printer to your PC, then you can connect [Intel’s home networking solutions].”

That might be all fine and good, but for Michael Bauer, senior director of IT services and a professor of computer sciences at the University of Western Ontario in London, after-hours home computing is a non-issue.

“I’d rather go play in the dirt,” he laughed, while sharing his passion for gardening. “I already get my fill of high-technology…after dealing with screens and machines it seems almost therapeutic to not deal with technology.”

Bauer confessed to being in possession of two laptops at home, connected via cable modem, and he has plans in the short term to build a networked system – between stints seeding and pruning his garden.

“It’s a fairly inexpensive system, a simple four-port hub that I’ll eventually connect with two older boxes I have,” he said before his rolling laughter got the best of him. “I’m so sick of machines.”