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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Future technology predictions...from the past

January 3, 2011
by Mark Ollig

I started typing this column focusing on predictions about the new high-tech devices we might see this year.

While yours truly was methodically punching the keys on the QWERTY board, an unexpected pause occurred.

Seeing the words appearing on the screen I shook my head and thought “Let’s take this first-of-the-year column in a different direction.”

“Alright, so what would be interesting? How about a look at ‘past future predications’ and see how those turned out,” I reasoned.

And with that as our new subject, we are off and running.

Lee De Forest, who invented the Audion vacuum tube in 1906, made this interesting prediction related to space travel in 1926 “To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth – all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur, regardless of all future advances.”

In July 1969, the men of Apollo 11 accomplished this feat as described by De Forest.

It is also interesting to note that Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel into space April 12, 1961.

Lee De Forest would die a little more than two months later, June 30, 1961, at the age of 87.

De Forest did live long enough to have seen a man travel into space.

We find even popular national newspapers can miss with their predictions.

In 1936, the New York Times wrote “A rocket will never leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Just 10 years later, Oct. 24, 1946, one of Germany’s captured V2 missile rockets was launched by the US from New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range. The missile was equipped with a 35-millimeter motion film picture camera and reached a height of 65 miles in three minutes.

The camera recorded the first views of the Earth ever seen from space.

The “flying camera” would take a new picture frame every second and a half as it ascended above the Earth’s atmosphere.

The missile and camera fell back and crashed into the Earth at 500 miles an hour.

The camera itself was destroyed, but the film inside was protected by a hardened steel case.

A Universal News film of this event was made and can be seen at

During 1946, Darryl F. Zanuck, a movie producer and the studio executive who started 20th Century Films and then later bought out Fox Studios to become 20th Century Fox, said, “(Television) won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”

Of course, we all know what became of that plywood box.

This week at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, the very first 3D television is scheduled to be presented, which does not require those cumbersome 3D glasses to view it with.

Yes, faithful readers, the first “naked-eye” 3D television is about to be made public.

In 1943, IBM founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. was reported to have made this prediction, “I think there is a world market for, maybe, five computers.”

In checking the latest Gartner research figures, it is predicted during 2011, that 352.4 million personal computers will be sold.

If we include all tablet devices like the iPad and others, the total is estimated to be over 400 million computing devices.

Popular Mechanics magazine made this futuristic prediction in 1949, “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”

Recently, I checked and found today’s 11-inch MacBook Air computer weighs in at a fit and trim 2.3 pounds.

Time magazine wrote in 1966, “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop . . .”

Forrester Forecast, an independent research company, says approximately $173 billion will have been spent in 2010 in total online shopping sales in the US.

Your humble columnist (and telecommunications laborer) feels the need to include this 1961 prediction by FCC Commissioner T. Craven, “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.”

April 6, 1965, the US launched Intelsat 1. It became the first commercial communications satellite to be placed in geosynchronous orbit over the Earth.

One prediction I will never forget was made the year I graduated from high school.

In 1977, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olsen said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Make sure to check back with us next week, as we go over the exciting highlights from the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show taking place in Las Vegas this week.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Google's Chrome notebook finally arrives

December 27, 2010
by Mark Ollig

The first column yours truly wrote for 2010 was about the new Google notebook computer.

In that column, I wrote how Google anticipated their new Web-based notebook computer would arrive sometime late this year.

Well, apparently Google feels this is late enough in the year.

The new Google Chrome OS (operating system) notebook, or “Cr-48” computer was made available to Google’s pilot program beta testers about two weeks ago.

Google describes this first effort to provide a strictly cloud-based computing notebook as “their test notebook” and “the first of its kind.”

The notebook itself has a 12.1-inch LCD display screen with a resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels, a full-size keyboard, and a large surface touchpad.

The notebook weighs in at 3.8 pounds and operates with an Intel Atom N455 processor.

Its internal battery supplies about eight hours of continuous user computing activity and roughly one week’s worth of idle or stand-by reserve time.

There is a USB and SD card slot on the notebook. One beta tester mentioned “these don’t yet work properly,” and even Google states they do not serve any real purpose – yet.

To operate the Google notebook, one needs to be connected to the Internet and signed in under their Google account.

This notebook computer turns on (boots) very quickly (about 10 seconds) and will go in and out of standby or sleep mode instantly.

The Google Chrome notebook has been described as a larger netbook-type computer with a Web browser acting as the operating system inside of it.

What makes this particular notebook unique is that it uses “the cloud” as the venue, where all of its computer settings, music, video, work documents, games and other web applications reside.

I do see an advantage with this.

If the notebook computer became damaged or lost, a person could log back into their program applications using another Chrome notebook.

The user would have the very same desktop-like access to all programs and files in the identical manner they were accessed from the original notebook.

All of the computer’s bookmarks, applications and settings will be restored from the cloud.

This does mean, however, that you need to maintain a connection to the Internet in order to manage your applications.

The Google Chrome notebook is specifically designed to manage applications and programs from the Internet (using direct connection or wireless).

I read where Google is working to adapt their “Google Docs” online application to work in an offline mode. They expect this to be operational early next year.

The Google Chrome notebook allows for using multiple applications at the same time. Each application is opened using a separate tab – just like a regular Web browser can do.

A “full screen” mode key on the Chrome notebook allows the one application being used to occupy the entire display screen.

There are many applications and programs available for use with the Google Chrome notebook.

The thousands of existing applications now available for the Chrome Web browser (and soon to be added Chrome notebook) are accessible from the Chrome Web Store. They are easy to get – much like how folks access the iTunes Web Store or the Apple Store for their music and software applications.

The Google Chrome Web Store is at:

Google states the Chrome notebook evolves with the Web. Every time the Chrome notebook is turned on and connects to the Internet, it automatically upgrades itself with the latest features and fixes.

One feature on the Chrome notebook allows a user to keep a conversation going with an open chat window while composing an e-mail message.

One of the beta testers mentioned printing, from the notebook via Google’s Web Print, has some issues, and is “not stable.”

This beta tester also questions how one could easily move all existing music, photo, and video files stored on a computer hard drive to the cloud if a person wished to transition fully to cloud computing.

Sounds like the makings of a future Bits & Bytes column to me.

If all of our future computing does take place inside the cloud, we will no longer need the conventional Windows or Mac operating systems inside our notebook or desktop computers.

This is because the real action will be taking place over the network and inside the cloud; our computer will become just another simple hardware “device” connected to it.

The CNET website uploaded a YouTube video explaining their beta testing experiences using the new Google Chrome Cr-48 notebook at:

Google has their own YouTube video at:

You can also learn more about the Google Chrome notebook from:

Google created a humorous video about what happens when your new Chrome notebook is damaged beyond repair:

The Google Chrome OS notebook computer to be made available for the general public is rumored to be in the $200 price range.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tech highlights: 2000-2010

December 20, 2010
by Mark Ollig

As we approach 2011, I thought it would be appropriate for us to look back and recall some of the milestones in technology we have witnessed since 2000.

It was in the year 2000, when the 10-millionth website was confirmed as being online.

At the start of 2010, there were approximately 234 million websites available over the Internet.

Global Position Systems (GPS) originally developed by the Department of Defense as a military system, became available for civilian use in 2000. GPS is a satellite-based system which provides precise location and timing information to users all over the world.

Universal Serial Bus (USB) flash drives (used to connect computing devices) were first publicly obtainable when Trek Technology and IBM began selling them in 2000.

Sony launched its PlayStation 2 video game console in 2000.

The next year, Microsoft released its own video game system called the Xbox.

In January 2001, we came across the presence of the noteworthy – and yet sometimes controversial – Wikipedia website. This non-profit site currently contains more than 17 million articles which have been written collaboratively by people from around the world. These articles can also be edited by anyone with proper user access to the site.

One of the today’s most popular media-player devices made its debut Oct. 23, 2001, when Apple first introduced the iPod. As of April 2010, more than 260 million iPods have been sold world-wide.

The year 2002 saw the invention of a helpful (and entertaining) household robot known as the Roomba. This circular 13.4-inch in diameter device is an electronic robotic vacuum which navigates around the inside of your house, cleaning the floor. It has built-in sensors which keep it from running into walls, and it won’t fall down the stairs – which is always a good thing.

Apple’s iTunes Music Store made its introduction in 2003, and Time magazine proclaimed it as the “invention of the year.”

In 2003, Apple also released its new Safari graphical web browser on their Mac OS X operating system. (A Microsoft Windows version of Safari became available in 2007).

With our computer and a headset, we were making telephone calls over the Internet in 2003 using Skype, a software creation of two Estonian developers.

The online social networking site called Facebook was launched in 2004. As of July 2010, Facebook boasts more than 500 million active users, with your humble columnist being one of them.

Google started a free e-mail service called Google Mail, commonly known as “Gmail,” in 2004. Paul Buchheit is the programmer responsible for its creation.

Mozilla’s FireFox, a popular web browser alternative to the Microsoft Internet Explorer, was first released Nov. 9, 2004.

The year 2005 saw a ground-breaking method of sharing video files, when YouTube went online.

We began to tweet short-length messages to the world in July 2006, when Twitter appeared on the Internet scene.

In 2007, we were broadcasting our own video content creations live over social networks like and

Apple’s first Internet and multimedia-enabled smart phone, called the iPhone, first hit stores Jan. 9, 2007. One interacts with the iPhone via its glass liquid-crystal display touch-screen.

In March 2007, the Hulu website began showing streaming video of movies and television shows from most of the major mainstream networks and studios. released the first Kindle e-book reader in the US Nov. 19, 2007.

Google came out with a graphical user web browser with its introduction of Chrome on Sept. 2, 2008.

Apple’s MacBook Air, a thin 13.3” notebook, was made available to the public Jan. 15, 2008.

In 2009, Google reveals a “big secret” at its April 1 Google Data Center Energy Summit conference in Mountain View, CA. Google announced that it builds its own computer servers. Each individual computer file server contains an internal 12-volt battery pack.

Jan. 27, 2010, Apple’s chairman and CEO, Steve Jobs, introduced the long-awaited iPad at an Apple press conference in San Francisco. The iPad is configured with 16, 32, or 64 GB of internal flash drive storage.

“Cloud computing” became a buzz word during 2010.

Many in the industry believe “the cloud” may become the future venue where we will store, access, and manage our documentation and all other web-based applications, software, and files. The programs we previously stored inside our personal computers’ hard drive will reside and be accessible from encrypted computer file servers attached to the Internet.

Just this month, Google came out with its new notebook computer specifically designed for using software applications stored in the cloud. The Google Chrome notebook uses Google’s Chrome Operating System.

My concern about cloud computing remains centered on the safety and security of the information being stored.

A video tour demonstration of the new Google Chrome notebook can be seen at

The future discoveries, innovations, and technical advances of 2011 are yet to be revealed to us.

At the start of 2000, we talked about how much storage space our personal computers held using terms such as megabytes. By 2005, we spoke of gigabytes. It is now near the end of 2010, and we are speaking in terabytes.

The adventure continues . . . so stay tuned.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday gift ideas for the tech-minded

December 13, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Well, faithful readers, it’s that time of year again, when the holiday phobia known as, “What do I buy them again this year?” makes itself known.

We are fortunate it’s 2010; we have so many marvelous new tech toys and devices available.

One of them is from D-Link, who sells the new Boxee Box device.

This intelligent, small cube is essentially a media player which easily connects your home television to the Internet.

The Boxee Box has a unique design. It is, in fact, box-shaped – albeit a couple corners missing.

The device measures 4.7 inches on each side and has a flush power button on its top and a nonskid rubber base.

It sits at a funny angle, but the shape was designed this way on purpose in order to avoid having the box easily pulled back by the cables connected from the TV and Internet router.

Boxee Box’s website makes the statement, “Just plug this little guy into your TV with the included HDMI cord, connect to the Internet via wireless or Ethernet, and you’re set to watch your favorite shows and movies from the Internet on your flat-screen TV.”

The built-in software allows it to always be looking for your favorite video content; you are constantly kept up-to-date with the latest videos available from the Net.

The Boxee Box makes these video streams available for you to watch via its navigational on-screen menu displayed on your television.

The Boxee Box also includes sources for thousands of TV show episodes accessible from the Internet. Find the show you want to watch, click play, and enjoy.

The video-streaming movies and television shows are viewed on your regular television.

What is nice about the Boxee Box is that you need only the Internet connection, not cable or satellite TV, and there are no monthly fees for using the Boxee Box.

The Boxee Box itself is fundamentally a personal computer-like device running with Linux operating system software. The hardware processor is Intel’s Atom CE4100 SoC (system-on-chip processor), running at 1.2 GHz.

The Boxee Box can support dual 1080p video streams, along with advanced 3-D graphics and audio.

Since many of our favorite movies and shows are being uploaded to the Internet, we have an almost endless supply of them to choose from, so it makes sense to use the Boxee Box for watching any video you want, when you want.

The Boxee also works well with the Netflix online movie library.

An SD (secure digital) card slot is found on the Boxee Box which can be used to display the pictures from your camera’s SD memory card.

One can also access the videos, music, or pictures from your personal computer or any network drive with the Boxee.

The Boxee Box comes with a remote control unit, an HMDI (high-definition multimedia interface) cable, Ethernet port, 802.11n Wi-Fi, two USB ports, and composite audio connectors.

The Boxee Box supports the following operating system platforms: Apple Mac, Linux, and Windows.

So, now your favorite techno-geek can watch real Web TV on their high-definition television without having to use the family computer.

The Boxee Box is priced at about $200.

For more information, check out the website at

A fun tech toy on my list this year is the . . . say it out loud with me . . . “WowWee Robosapien V2 Full Function Humanoid Robot.”

This entertaining, programmable robot comes equipped with hearing and vision sensors.

It will respond using its voice (in English) when someone speaks to it.

Standing at nearly 2 feet tall, the robot can “see” people close by using its vision-sensor eyes, and will follow the movement of objects around it.

The robot’s grip sensors allow it to pick up small items, too.

This holiday gift is a bit pricey, at nearly $500, but hey, you are getting a real, live robot for your money.

Just go to YouTube and search for videos on WowWee Robosapien V2 Full Function Humanoid Robots to see them in action.

A couple of robots I remember playing with as a youth were called the “Rock’em Sock’em Robots.”

For those of you over 50 who like to reminiscence, check out this memorable television commercial from our youth at

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Utilizing the Internet during US - S. Korea military exercises

Dec. 6, 2010
by Mark Ollig

The USS George Washington (CVN 73) arrived off the coast of South Korea a couple of weeks ago to participate in Naval drill exercises in the Yellow Sea.

With the drill taking place close to North Korea, one could expect some tension.

I did what many folks do; I looked to the mainstream media for updated news and information.

When I turned on the television, I was surprised by the lack of any real-time coverage of this event as it unfolded.

So, on the evening of Nov. 27, I instead turned to the Internet.

Using, I was able to follow the Twitter hashtag’s being used, which relayed messages about the Naval drill and the events taking place.

I then spent the next 30 minutes filtering out the many repetitive messages.

Most Twitter users were merely repeating or “re-tweeting” the same thing to each other.

There wasn’t any current news up to this point.

Then, one message (sandwiched in-between the repetitive stream) appeared, which stood out uniquely from the others.

The message came from a source who was actually reporting the events as they were happening in South Korea.

The posted message read, “We’ve now got reliable info that both surface-to-surface & surface-to-air missiles being readied in N. Korea on the west coast.”

This communication read like it was being reported from a news war correspondent in the field.

The Twitter’s user name was @W7VOA.

W7VOA is actually Steven L. Herman, who is the Voice of America (VOA) Bureau Chief/Correspondent covering the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Herman was also a print and broadcast reporter and editor with the Associated Press.

He is currently based on the scene in Seoul South Korea.

Herman’s personal web link, where his direct posts are being sent to, can be seen scrolling in real-time at

Late that night, Nov. 27, a message posted from W7VOA read “AFP photographer on Yeonpyeong says anyone still there ordered to take shelter in bunkers.”

Later, W7VOA sent this report via his Blackberry, “Ministry tells all journalists remaining on Yeonpyeong to evacuate island by taking 1900KST ferry to Incheon.”

Another reporter named Sam Kim, who was covering North Korea, sent messages under the user name @egalite_twitted. He posted fresh new pictures of the USS George Washington upon its arrival at

This reporter works for Seoul’s Yonhap news outlet, their website is

“Wish I could see inside South Korea right now,” I thought.

I opened another tab in my web browser to search for any live webcams (video camera’s transmitting live images over the Internet) originating from South Korea.

It was 10 o’clock at night here, which meant it was 1 o’clock in the afternoon and still daylight in South Korea.

A South Korean website map showed the locations of 13 webcams.

I clicked on the link of the webcam located in the most northern section of South Korea and closest to North Korea.

This website, originating from South Korea, appears in Korean text; however, at the top of the web page I saw an “ENG” translations icon, thus saving yours truly from having to learn the Korean language.

The most northern webcam was called “Sunrise of Han River.”

Clicking this link opened the sites webcam online video player.

Soon, I was watching in real-time, outdoor events occurring in this part of South Korea.

The webcam is physically located in Haneul Park, which is right along the Hangang River.

This is the website’s description of the webcam’s location, “Haneul Park is a grass park that is the nearest to the sky settled in the 2nd Nanjido reclaimed land, having a wonderful look of Seoul at one sight.”

“Especially here you could see Seoul at one sight, those are Buchanan to the north, Namsan and 63 Building to the south, and Hangjusanseong to the west,” the translated text on the webpage explained.

This particular webcam automatically pans slowly back and forth, showing almost a full panoramic view of the surrounding area.

One could see brush and grass gently swaying in a light breeze along the countryside and in the background were several rolling hills underneath a blue sky.

The webcam showed the Sungsan Grand Bridge, buildings, and highways with cars traveling along them unimpeded.

When I checked this webcam during the night, thousands of individual dots of light emanating from building windows were clearly visible.

Seoul is to the southeast, and Incheon is to the southwest of this webcam’s location.

The link I used to find the webcam is

In the morning, Nov. 29, W7VOA messaged, “Pentagon now confirms there will be “live fire” exercises as part of the US-ROK naval drill in Yellow Sea.”

Nov. 30 W7VOA reported ,“Gen. Sharp, the USFK commander, says “situation is calmer,” but will continue to keep all informed.”

Using the Internet, I was able to view in real-time a northern geographical location in South Korea, while receiving up-to-the-minute messages sent out by news correspondents based inside South Korea.

All of us have the means to go online and independently learn about (or report on) late-breaking news events as they happen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Vintage" Bits and Bytes - from the archives (December 15, 1997)

Bits and Bytes
By Mark Ollig
December 15, 1997

“A Personal Experience”

This latest “adventure-in-computing” column was the day someone (me) spilled cappuccino all over my brand new HP OmniBook laptop.

My first thought was “I can’t believe I did this!”

I am referring to about a week ago when I was doing some work with my laptop computer and sipping cappuccino.

I usually set the cup on the table away from the computer.

This time I didn’t. I set it next to my computer.

Getting back to the cappuccino. Yes, it was sitting there on the desk next to my computer, and over the course of an hour I had expertly handled it with great care making sure I didn’t commit the cardinal sin of all computer users: Spilling something on the computer.

Reaching for the cup again, I did it.

“I don’t believe I actually did this,” I said out loud, with no one but the cat looking at me.

The first thing I did was to get the computer off the pool of dark brown liquid.

But it was too late.

Hazel Nut cappuccino had done its deed all over my Hewlett Packard OmniBook.

I did the normal, rational thing. I turned off the computer and went crazy getting a towel. . . and trying to wipe off the desk and computer.

Oh, yes, the cat was still in the room, no doubt laughing its little feline head off at me.

After I calmed down, I assessed the situation.

I opened up the laptop and pressed the power button.

Nothing happened.

You know that sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you realize that something terrible has occurred?

“It is still under warranty!” I exclaimed. I can just drop it off where I bought it and have them open it up and take a look.

As I walked in the show room, the salesman smiled and asked if I needed anything.

Yes, I know why he was smiling.

“Well, I had an accident and spilled cappuccino on this,” I said to him. “But it still should be under warranty.”

He went over to his computer (by the way, I noticed he had no cups near his computer) and looked up my computer and warranty information.

“The good news is that the computer is still under warranty.” He said. “The bad news is that the warranty doesn’t cover spills.”

Well, I was there so I let them look at it anyway.

“They seem to put the screws on these computers in the hardest to find places,” the technician said nervously.

I started thinking that maybe I should leave.

“Well, I know how it feels to have someone staring over your shoulder while you’re trying to work on something, so I have a few things I can do and I will stop by in a half hour and see how you’re coming along.”

“Thanks,” the technician said with some relief.

While I was in my car driving, I thought, I should have taken the laptop battery out and then see if it would turn on with only the AC running it. Maybe the battery is shorting out.

Thinking I had found the answer and could save time, I called the technician on my car phone and asked him to try that and see if it would power up.


“Nice idea though,” the technician told me.

After awhile, I went back to the store and asked how it was going.

“It is working now!” the salesman beamed.

They had opened up the computer and used compressed air to dry it out.

“Shouldn’t be long now; there is just one thing that we are checking,” the salesman said.

Twenty minutes went by and I was wondering what was taking so long.

“We can’t seem to get the mouse to work,” he told me.

“What mouse? I didn’t bring it in with my mouse,” I said.

They had connected one of their mice to my computer to check it out and their mouse wasn’t working on it so they thought there was another problem.

“You have to use the HP mouse that uses the HP mouse driver,” I said.


I got home and turned on the computer, plugged in the HP mouse (which worked) and made sure the ol’ OmniBook computer was OK.

The experience made me realize an important object lesson for all of us.

Keep the beverages away from the computer.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Web Summit 2.0 provides unique Internet forum

Nov. 22, 2010
by Mark Ollig

The seventh annual Web Summit 2.0 conference in San Francisco last week brought online business leaders together to communicate their expertise regarding commerce over the Internet.

Some shared their thoughts about ways to utilize “content consumers information” on the Web – more or less to “open up our virtual wallets” and purchase the services and products they are selling.

Yours truly was able to watch some of the event’s content via the live streaming video feed.

Last Tuesday, while watching the live video, I noted the number of online viewers hit 2,504.

John Hayes, a global marketing officer for American Express, told the audience in attendance how the competition for business needs to “worry about the people in a garage starting an online business and then reaching 2 billion people faster than any existing business situated in a brick and mortar building.”

Another speaker, Mary Meeker, is a managing director and serves as leader of Morgan Stanley’s global technology research team.

Meeker’s presentation started off with a list of the current top Internet markets.

The number one market is China, with 384 million users; followed by the US with 240 million. Brazil is third, with 76 million users. India comes in fourth, with 61 million; and Russia rounds out the top five with its 60 million users.

A change in how the majority of us are accessing the Internet is also going through a revolution of sorts.

The number of personal mobile devices like iPhones, Blackberrys, iPods, Droids and iPads accessing the Web is increasing dramatically.

“A mobile device connected to the cloud [Internet] is how people want to interact with media,” said Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe, during his presentation.

Meeker pointed out that the US leads the world in the top mobile Internet market statistics, with 136.6 million mobile devices, which includes 3G.

Japan is second at 106.3 million, while China is ranked 12th with 13.3 million mobile device users.

Three hundred million mobile devices were being used world-wide in 2004.

By 2012, global shipments of mobile smartphone devices will surpass notebook personal computers.

Desktop computers were surpassed in total global shipments by notebook personal computers in 2009.

Meeker’s research information comes from the World Cellular Information Service (WCIS).

Facebook is thought to be the largest online social network, with 620 million users world-wide, however, it is not.

Tencent, founded in 1998, is the name of the largest online social network in China, and it is reported to have 637 million active users.

Facebook is, however, the largest online social network in English-speaking countries.

Speaking of exploding online-user social networks, YouTube’s servers are now being downloaded with an average of 35 hours worth of user video content per minute.

Meeker’s power point presentation chart showed the total number of global Internet users in 1995 was around 6 million.

At the end of 2009, there were an estimated 1.2 billion users.

In 1995, the online ad revenues per user was approximately $9, and the total global online Internet ad revenue generated was $55 million dollars.

By 2009, these numbers jumped dramatically with $46 worth of ad revenue being generated per user and an incredible $54 billion being generated globally via Internet e-commerce.

In the very near future, “contactless” payment technology will become the new method used for making quick payments.

Imagine shopping at your favorite store and paying for your purchases simply by waving or swiping your iPhone in front of a wireless payment terminal reader on your way out the door.

No need for the plastic credit card, writing a check or fumbling with cash.

Our mobile devices handsets will soon be equipped with technology enabling them to be used for making “contactless payments.”

Nokia has confirmed a new software upgrade will take place early next year which will activate what is called the “near-field communication” (NFC) chip.

NFC is a short range wireless system which allows data to be transferred between devices.

Google announced that NFC software will be included in their next update of Google’s smartphone operating system, Android 2.3.

Visa and DeviceFidelity, will also launch a mobile contactless payment technology for the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS devices.

Web Summit 2.0 provided some mind-blowing numbers.

In 2004, there were 300 million devices connected to the Internet.

By 2020, it is estimated 1 trillion (yes, trillion) consumer-electronic devices will be connected to the Internet’s social and media networks.

A speaker from Cisco Systems stated, by 2013 they forecast the yearly global IP (Internet Protocol) traffic will reach 667 exabytes and all Internet video content will generate 18 exabytes per month.

An exabyte is about one quintillion bytes, or around one billion gigabytes.

The next number above an exabyte is called a zettabyte, which is about 1,000 exabytes.

Okay, I need to take a couple Advil tablets for my headache now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Futuristic robots are not the stuff of science fiction anymore

Nov. 15, 2010
by Mark Ollig

The word “robot” is said to have first appeared in the play “Rossum’s Universal Robots,” which premiered in 1921.

In this play, a factory is making artificial people called robots.

Credit for the creation of the word, “robot” is generally given to a writer named Josef Kapek.

Robot is derived from the Czech word “robota.”

The Czech noun, “robota,” means “labor.”

My earliest memory of robots occurred while watching the Lost in Space television show in the late 1960s.

Simply known as “The Robot” this helpful automaton accompanied the Robinson family while they traveled onboard their Jupiter 2 spacecraft.

Officially, it was identified as Robot B9.

For fans of Lost in Space who dreamed how cool it would be to have their very own working robot – dream no more.

For only $25,000 (yes, you read it right), you can have your very own, full-size, and fully functional Lost in Space B9 robot.

The B9 robots are all meticulously handmade to exacting details – they are complete replicas, and look amazing.

After seeing videos and pictures taken of the proud and smiling owners standing alongside their B9 robots, I sensed they were as much followers of the Lost in Space television show in their youth as I was.

If you want to have your own Robot B9, check out the company’s website for all the details at

Back in 1954, George Devol created the first industrial-use robot called Unimate.

Devol’s robot patent was filed Dec. 10, 1954. He was issued US patent 2,988,237 June 13, 1961.

Unimate was an electronically controlled, hydraulic heavy-lifting arm which repeated certain motions via programmable instructions.

In 1961, Unimate was in operation on a General Motors assembly line in Trenton, NJ.

GM used Unimate to lift and stack hot pieces of metal removed from a die-casting machine.

A good source for personal and professional robot technology can be found at

Information about personal robots, robotic lawn mowers, room vacuum cleaners, and surveillance robots can be found there, as well.

One robot, which caught my eye, was the Meccano Spykee WiFi Spy Robot, which comes in a kit one assembles, and when finished, stands approximately 12 inches tall.

This robot is a wireless VoIP phone, a webcam, a music player for your MP3s, and a personal home video surveillance guard.

It can be controlled via a computer connected to the Internet from anywhere in the world.

If the robot detects any movement while you are away, it will take a picture of what it sees and automatically send it to you via e-mail.

The Meccano Spykee also includes a microphone, speaker, lights, rubber tracks, a built-in WiFi card, and some cool- looking fiber optics.

This intelligent robot will even automatically return to its battery charging station when it needs recharging.

“It’s a toy, but many people use it as surveillance robot,” said Jennifer Briand, the product manager for Spykee.

“At the beginnings we thought that very young adults would be very interested in the product, but today we know that we have a lot of adults from 25 to 55 that like to play with Spykee. When you ask them what the favorite function is, they say they really like to drive it when they’re out of the home,” Briand said.

It costs $349 and can be ordered from

The Spykee world home website is located at

It’s interesting to note how many folks are starting to own personal surveillance robots for monitoring their homes and businesses.

From a remote location across town or across the country, a person is able to control the movement of their robot inside their home or business; in addition, they are able to see and hear what the robot observes.

This gives one the sense of actually being in the same location as the robot. This feeling is called “telepresence.”

Imagine being away on vacation and you want to do a “security walk” around the inside of your house.

Simply pop open your laptop, connect to your home-based robot, and survey your domain through the eyes of your mobile robotic watch dog.

With the built-in speaker, you could even be the robot’s voice and talk with a family member who was at home – or yell at any intruders.

Imagine the surprise an intruder would receive when confronted by a robot with your voice saying “Get out of here right now! I’m calling the police!”

Robert Oschler, a programmer, built a customized electronic robot equipped with a camera, microphone, and speakers.

He attached his robot on top of a three-wheeled motorized platform.

Oschler is able to access this robot from his computer over an Internet connection.

He is then able to maneuver the robot throughout his house, while watching live video and hearing the audio sent from the robot.

“Fortunately, I’ve never logged in and seen a human face,” Oschler said

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Apple, Microsoft and some time-traveling

Nov. 8, 2010
by Mark Ollig

A reader sent this columnist an e-mail asking when he would see something about Apple computers.

Okay Robert, today you will, but first I need to ramble on a bit.

As most of you know, I have been using Microsoft software since the last century; starting around 1983, when I used MS-DOS 1.0.

Has it really been that long?

While many folks are using the latest Microsoft Windows 7, I am still plodding along with the Windows XP operating system on my4-year-old HP Pavilion notebook PC.

While having been exposed to some Apple hardware and software (but remaining the creature of habit that I am), Microsoft software and PCs still fit me like a well-worn comfortable pair of jeans.

My first real experience using an Apple product was when I received an iPodtouch as a birthday present a couple of years ago.

My iPodtouch travels with me most days, and I have come to appreciate the many applications and features it has on it.

It’s not really fair to compare it with my old 1979 Sony Walkman, though.

However, the old Walkman does have one advantage over the iPodtouch.

The iPodtouch doesn’t play cassette tapes . . . there’s no app for that yet.

The latest new Apple computer product I learned about is the wafer-thin MacBook Air.

There’s an 11.6 and 13.3-inch sized MacBook Air computer with prices starting at $999.

The MacBook Air’s structural housing is made from a single piece of aluminum.

Apple says this total “unibody aluminum construction” means a less complex casing design with fewer parts, thus making the MacBook Air very thin, (less than an inch) lightweight, but yet sturdy.

There is no spinning hard drive on the MacBook Air; instead, it uses a series of small 32 GB flash storage chips for storing the operating system and software.

Extra space was made available by using these small flash storage chips, and Apple installed a larger battery inside.

The larger battery allows for a much longer operating time inbetween charging.

Apple claims up to five hours of battery life on the 11.6-inch MacBook Air and up to seven hours on the 13.3-inch model.

When you put the MacBook Air to “sleep” for more than an hour, it will enter into a standby mode. This allows the computer to instantly wake-up when it is powered back on after a day, a week or even up to one month – with the programs last being used instantly appearing on the screen.

The other topic I wanted to fit into this week’s column was the story about a particular time-traveler seen in a popular YouTube video.

Some of you may have watched the recent YouTube video which went viral over the Internet of a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film titled, “The Circus.”

In this silent Chaplin film, it shows what appears to be an older woman dressed in the clothes of that time period, using a modern day cell phone, which as we all know, would be quite impossible.

In the opening scene of the film, we catch sight of the woman walking alone along a city sidewalk, holding a small device pressed against her left ear, with her left hand.

While walking, she keeps holding this small device close to her ear, then abruptly stops, looks left, and turns her face towards the camera. The woman appears surprised as she becomes aware of the filming camera’s presence.

It then seems as if she begins to have a conversation over the “cell phone.”

Of course, no cell phones existed in 1928.

Martin Cooper wouldn’t be talking over his new cell phone invention in New York City for another 45 years.

I must admit to be being somewhat dumbfounded when I first saw this video, as I could not believe what my eyes were seeing.

After some in-depth investigation by your highly-skeptical – yet devoted fan of science-fiction columnist, I found what I believe to be the answer to this mystery.

It seems some creative individuals over at the Siemens Corporation, had invented a small rectangular box-like device a person could hold to their ear for amplifying sounds.

Siemens had invented what they called a “compact pocket sized carbon microphone/amplifier device” back in 1924 – four years before the Chaplin film.

This appears to be the most logical answer as to what the mystery device being held up against the woman’s ear in the Chaplin film was.

But then again, can we be absolutely sure?

Why would she be talking into a hearing-aid?

I just get too caught up in all of this, don’t I?

To watch this dumbfounding “Chaplin’s Time Traveler” video, visit

The web page displaying the Siemens 1924 hearing device is at

For more on the MacBook Air, see

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saying good-bye to yesterday's technology can be hard to do

Nov. 1, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Last week I posted a link on my Facebook page about Sony’s announcement to discontinue, or “retire” the manufacturing of their Sony Walkman portable cassette tape player.

Trivia answer: Kozo Ohsone is the person who coined the term Sony “Walkman.”

Some of us will no doubt recall when Sony introduced this new portable cassette player back in 1979.

My first thought after looking at one was a bit doubtful; “There’s no record button on it.”

It was, however, a very portable and easy-to-carry around stereo cassette player with adequately fitting headphones.

It used two “AA” batteries, which, I discovered, required regular replacement.

During the 1980s, the Sony Walkman cassette player had its highest popularity.

Before the Walkman, the only “portable” music player I owned was the transistor radio I carried around with me (or taped to the handlebars of my bicycle).

In the mid 1970s, former Holy Trinity classmates may remember my portable radio being present (and usually turned on) during a few classes.

I also had a Radio Shack Realistic CTR-41 cassette tape recorder I liked a lot.

A person could walk around with this cassette recorder while it played music, so it was in a sense, “portable,” but one needed to keep from jostling it about so the tape wouldn’t wobble around and affect the audio play-back quality. All in all, it was a well-made, compact cassette recorder.

Back in the day, our music was on vinyl records, 8-track tape cartridges, or cassette tapes. We bought them in the retail stores, or signed up for memberships in record and tape clubs, like Columbia House.

How many of you recall mailing out for tapes or record albums after watching those infamous 1970s K-tel commercials on television?

I sense we have some of the young folks scratching their heads.

Ah yes, well, if you want to see one of those vintage 1976 K-tel television commercials, check out

I remember folks recording music to cassette tapes using a dual cassette tape deck. One would copy the pre-recorded music cassette onto a blank cassette and share it with friends.

Being the ever-resourceful generation, we learned how to record songs off the radio, vinyl records, and pre-recorded cassette tapes, and onto blank cassette tapes.

Remember, kids, in the mid 1970s, we didn’t have an iTunes to download music and sync it to an iPod.

There was no BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing protocol or pirated music sharing websites like Napster (which was sued by record companies and forced to shut down in 2001).

If members of my generation are feeling a bit nostalgic, you can watch videos of those old vintage cassette recorders on YouTube.

YouTube has many videos uploaded from people proudly showing off their working vintage cassette recorders. Several give details about AC and DC bias source recorders and provide a bit OF history about them.

My first recollection of tube and transistor radios, portable reel-to-reel tape recorders, dial telephones, 8-track tape decks and stereo consoles playing 45 rpm and LP 33 1/3 rpm vinyl records was during the 1960s.

No, I don’t remember people playing Thomas Edison 78 rpm records – although I do have one.

The technology kept improving during the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and the ‘00’s.

Gosh, that’s five decades worth of technology I have lived through (so far).

It’s actually six decades, if you count the two years of the 1950s I lived in.

Not that I’m counting.

So, how do you feel about living through the years of dealing with changes in technology?

I sometimes find it challenging . . . but when I understand, it becomes very satisfying learning about a new technology or what the next futuristic gadget is.

The improvements in the computing, digital, wireless, optical, and new organic technologies we unquestionably will be seeing in the future are worth looking forward to.

Of course, some of us like to reminisce nostalgically about past technology and the electronic devices we used from yesteryear.

Your technologically retro-columnist, wonders what the young people of today will feel about the electronic computing devices they are currently using, say 30 years from now.

In the future, when the announcement is made that the iPod and iPhone have become obsolete and will no longer be manufactured, I wonder how today’s young people will react.

Will they feel nostalgic about these devices in the same manner some of us feel about our 8-track tape players, vintage reel-to-reel and cassette tape recorders, turntables and vinyl records?

My old Sony Walkman player is stored in a box someplace, no doubt gathering dust along with my collection of cassette tapes from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

It probably still has a Doobie Brothers cassette tape in it.

As 2010 comes to a close, all of us can look ahead in anticipation to ground-breaking technological developments and the highly-advanced new gadgets we will marvel over.

My friend, Randy Lachermeier, posted this Facebook message to me, “I wish I had been born a hundred years into the future. I love technology, and can’t wait for the next new gadget to come out.”

I totally agree with you, Randy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Adventure: sending an iPhone and video camera to the edge of space

Oct. 25, 2010
by Mark Ollig

As a 10-year-old flying a kite one blustery day in late April, I recall wondering if I used enough string, could my kite soar high enough to be in space.

Not long ago, a young boy named Max, along with his father Luke Geissbuhler, decided to assemble a weather balloon with an attached homemade “craft” or capsule, and fly it into space.

Inside the capsule would be an iPhone 4 and a High Definition (HD) video camera, which would record the entire ascent into the stratosphere and the view from high above the earth.

While ascending, the balloon and capsule would have to survive turbulent 100 mph winds and freezing 60-degree below zero temperatures.

When the balloon reached its maximum atmospheric pressure limit, it would keep expanding until it burst.

The capsule would then have to withstand dizzying descent speeds of up to 150 mph.

The capsule would also need to deploy a parachute and transmit a GPS signal to a cell phone tower in order for them to locate it.

There was also a high risk of their capsule landing in water.

Sounds like quite an adventure.

The father and son designed their “space” capsule out of a small Styrofoam container and spray painted it bright orange.

Inside the container was foam cushioning, the iPhone, HD video camera, and portable hand warmers (the kind one uses during the winter), which were packed around the electronic devices to keep them from freezing.

To prevent the capsule from spinning around as it ascended, the balloon was attached to the capsule with stabilizing foam collars.

Tracking the capsule after it landed would be accomplished using the iPhones Global Positioning System (GPS) signals, which would be monitored via MobileMe.

MobileMe is an application folks can use to find their lost iPhones or iPads.

Max and his father would have enabled the “Find My iPhone” settings on the iPhone before it was launched.

By signing into the website,, they will be able to locate the iPhone’s signal and have the capsules location displayed to them on a map.

Also inside the capsule was a brief note (hand written by Max), explaining what the person who found the capsule should do. Hopefully, the people finding this note will be Max and his dad.

The testing and preparations were completed. After eight months, following all FAA rules for weather balloons, the balloon and attached capsule were ready to leave this Earth and begin its journey towards space.

Max, his father, and a few friends, completed a final check list.

Making sure the camera was turned on, they launched the balloon with the attached capsule from Newburgh, NY.

The balloon quickly lifted off the ground, recording Max standing on a nearby rock.

The ascent was at a rate of 25 feet per second.

The video camera showed trees, homes, and other objects on the ground quickly becoming smaller.

At about 20,000 feet, the video camera displayed the blueness of the sky and the fluffy white clouds below it.

Audio is also being recorded along with the video from the capsule’s camera during the entire flight.

The sounds of swirling winds can easily be heard.

At 60,000 feet, 100 mph thermal winds are flipping the balloon and attached capsule end-over-end, but the video camera is still recording everything. This occurs 40 minutes into the launch and it will certainly be a big test for the durability of all the components.

As the capsule escapes above the thermal winds, it gently ascends to 90,000 feet.

The balloon itself has now stretched to 18 feet across and is one foot shy of its maximum expandability before it will burst.

The balloon and capsule have now attained a maximum altitude of 100,000 feet, (30.48 kilometers) almost 19 miles above the earth.

Elapsed time since launch is 70 minutes.

The view from inside the center of the stratosphere is remarkable.

The attached video camera is flawlessly recording the breath-taking bluish curvature of the cloud covered earth, along with the intense blackness of space.

While at maximum altitude, the balloon suddenly bursts. There is a short moment of weightlessness before the attached capsule begins its descent back toward the earth.

As the capsule rapidly descends, the video camera is still recording and the view of the earth quickly fills the screen, along with parts of the shredded balloon.

With only two minutes before reaching the ground, the video camera’s batteries fail, after 100 minutes worth of recording since launch.

The iPhone’s GPS tracking signal is working and the mapped location of the fallen capsule shows it is just 30 miles north of the launch area.

During the night-time hours, Max and his father find the remains of the balloon and the fully intact capsule in a tree, 50 feet off the ground.

A photograph from their web page shows a smiling Max standing alongside his father, who is holding the orange capsule.

The photograph is titled, “This thing went to space.”

So ends another adventure.

To see the edited video and read more, visit

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Finding safe online social networks for the kids

October 18, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Choosing safe websites for children to use has been a concern for parents and guardians since the era of web browsing over the Internet began.

Today’s popular adult social networks such as Facebook should not be used by a child under 13, according to the Federal Trades Commission (FTC) Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998.

One of the conditions in COPPA prevents websites from collecting personal information about children who are under the age of 13 without a parent’s permission.

Parents are rightly concerned about the safety of their kids while they are using the Internet.

One precaution parents can take is checking out the online social network beforehand, ensuring it is being run by a website community which has a good reputation for child safety.

Finding the answers to a few of the following questions can also help.

Does the social networking site have their telephone number and address posted?

Is the site endorsed or recommended by your local school or community?

Is the site approved by other parents you know whose children are actively participating on it?

Another precaution which can be taking is to have the children use their computer in an open living space area where their online activities can be monitored.

I found a few children-recommended social networks while reading through my online social networking “stack-of-stuff.”

One children’s themed website is called “Togetherville.”

This site imitates the experience of an adult social networking site like Facebook, but it’s age-appropriate for children and is parent-monitored.

This site contains no outside links, no unapproved friends, and no private conversations.

Parents or guardians can sign up their children by using their own Facebook accounts to create a profile for each child.

Under the site’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), Togetherville is described as a new type of online community specifically designed for kids 6 to 10.

Kids connect online with real-life friends and family in a safe, child-friendly place with parents and trusted adults.

To post comments on this site, children must agree to Togetherville’s code of conduct which states: “I agree to not say anything mean or hurtful, not say embarrassing things about myself, my friends, or my family, and take responsibility for what I say on Togetherville.”

This site also assists parents’ and guardians’ participation in their children’s introduction to social media by encouraging parent-child interaction. Not only can parents view their child’s social network activity, but they can also post messages to his or her profile wall – like on Facebook.

It should be noted there is no connection between the two companies. Togetherville is a separate website and company from Facebook.

The Togetherville social networking site is at

“Skid-e Kids” is a children’s social networking site which relies on moderators for most of its security.

This website has been reviewed by CNN and has the full endorsement from the Georgia Department of Education.

One safety feature of a site includes a software filter for inappropriate language.

All pictures uploaded are checked by a human moderator before being posted.

Any of the children-submitted articles and stories they write for the site’s “Written by You” section are edited for inappropriate language.

The site’s numerous interest group pages are also moderated.

The advantage of this site is the constant human moderation of the content.

The parents or guardians aren’t required to constantly “check in” or continually monitor their child’s online activity on the site.

You can reach the Skid-e Kids children’s themed website at

My favorite though, is a children’s website maintained by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) which provides a music learning themed website for kids and families called “SFS Kids Fun with Music.”

SFS states they are committed to musical education within their own community and beyond.

SFS says their website – in conjunction with their live performances – provides a great way for people of all ages to hear, learn, and have fun with music.

One of the music learning places on this site is called The Music Lab.

Here, children can learn, the basics of music, starting with the sheet music staff, musical notes tempo, rhythm, pitch, harmony and more.

Kids will see, learn and hear a variety of musical instruments played on this site.

The children can even create their own music and hear it being played.

The SFS Kids Fun with Music website wants children (and parents) to consider their site a premier web destination for learning about music.

The SFS Kids Fun with Music website was created by the San Francisco Symphony Education Department.

This website is located at

Your music-loving columnist encourages you to make a visit there the next time you’re online.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The White House is going solar – once again

October 11, 2010
by Mark Ollig

It was 1979.

President Jimmy Carter had given his approval for the installation of 32 solar thermal panels to be installed on the roof of the White House.

Once the solar panels were installed, President Carter, from the roof of the White House, celebrated the installation with members of the press and others.

“A generation from now, this solar heater could either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people,” Carter predicated during his rooftop speech in June of 1979.

In the late 1970s, President Carter was in charge at a time when this country was reeling through a terrible energy crisis.

We were suffering from severe gas shortages during the aftermath of the OPEC oil embargo, when oil production was dramatically reduced, causing gas shortages and fluctuating prices.

Folks my age and older will remember having to wait in long lines to fill our cars with gas.

Many times we would see the “No Gas” signs hanging out in front of the gas stations.

The problems we faced back then weren’t only the rising cost per gallon of gas – it was mostly trying to find a gas station with gasoline available at the pumps.

There were many weekends when no gas was available, so people (like me) would try to keep their car’s gas tanks as close to full as possible.

I clearly remember during the week trying not to go below a half-tank of gas so I could get through the weekends; as several gas stations would be closed. Many times the local gas station owner would say, “The gas truck never made it here.”

Some folks (no humble columnist names will be mentioned) even stored gas-filled 5-gallon cans in their garages as a “reserve” in case of extended gasoline outages.

Personally, I had felt Carter’s installation of the solar panels was done more or less as a gesture to make the country aware of the need to use other sources of energy in order to reduce our dependence of oil from foreign sources.

President Carter’s solar panel system contained 32 photovoltaic panels and generated enough energy to supply the hot water needs for the entire White House, including the presidential dinning room.

In 1986, former President Ronald Reagan had the Carter solar panels removed during “roof repairs,” as one story reported it. Another story said Reagan had them removed and placed in storage because he felt the energy crisis Carter had confronted was over.

In any case, the solar panels ended up at Unity College, in rural Maine.

Some panels were installed on the roof of the college’s cafeteria (one solar panel was donated to the Jimmy Carter Museum and another was recently given to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History).

Now, some 25 years later, brand new solar panels will be installed once again on the roof of the White House.

President Barrack Obama agreed to have new solar panels installed in early 2011.

This past September, an environmental activist and author, Bill McKibben, along with a group of students from Maine, drove in a van (powered by bio-diesel fuel) to the White House.

Inside the van was one of the original “Carter solar panels,” which was still in working order.

The group from Maine wanted President Obama to re-install this original 1979 solar panel to its former location on the roof of the White House.

“It could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world,” said McKibben.

A White House official did meet with the group, but in the end, the administration deciding against re-installing the original solar panel.

It seems old White House solar panels never die; they just end up in museums or in Maine.

Recently, Energy Secretary Steven Chu spoke before a clean energy conference at George Washington University and said, “By the end of this spring, there will be solar panels, that convert sunlight into electricity and a solar hot water heater, on the roof of the White House.”

The new solar panels will be used for two separate systems. One will convert sunlight into energy to provide electricity, and the other will heat water to provide for the hot water needs inside the executive mansion.

Your investigative columnist discovered there will be a total of 50 new solar panels installed.

I found a picture taken of President Jimmy Carter with a group of people in 1979, as they stood on the roof of the White House. The President was making comments to them in front of the newly installed solar panels. I made a shortened link for it:

Sixteen of those original solar panels from the Carter White House still reside on the roof of the Unity college cafeteria in Maine.

Suddenly, I am starting to feel like it’s 1979 all over again . . . just to be safe; I better fill up the car today.

Check out this video sent to me by!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Consumer tech device necessities are shifting

October 4, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Two steadfast technology devices from the last century we once considered essential are diminishing in importance.

Today, when we consider the necessary technological devices we need to have in our homes, one might start off by thinking of a computer.

Thirty years ago, a majority of us probably would have said our television set and a telephone were essential to have.

A household computer of the 1980s vintage, was considered more of an electronic gadget one played games on or tinkered with as a home computing hobby.

Last week, I read the latest Social & Demographic Trends report released by the Pew Research Center and found some interesting statistics.

The poll was conducted from May 11 through May 31, 2010 among a national sampling of 2,967 adults ages 18 to 65 and better.

I noted in the Pew Research telephone survey, both landline and cell phone users were contacted for this poll.

According to their latest survey results, the landline telephone (the one with the cord attached to it for you young people) and the standard traditional living room television set, has seen a remarkable decline in being the “necessary” items in our everyday lives that they once were.

According to Pew, only 42 percent of those polled today think of the traditional television set as a necessity.

This is a full 10 percent point reduction from the same poll taken just last year.

The standard landline telephone took a smaller reduction, as 62 percent of the adults polled still consider having one a necessity of life. This is still a 6 percent reduction from last year’s poll.

Among the young people age 18 to 29, just 46 percent consider having a landline phone as being a necessity, and only 29 percent considered a television set as one.

Pew’s analysis of the US government’s own information currently shows just 74 percent of today’s US households having a traditional corded landline telephone.

In 2001, the percentage of households having a corded landline phone was at its all-time high of 97 percent.

The Pew Research numbers today show 82 percent of all adults using cell phones, which is up 29 percent, from 53 percent, in 2001.

Cell phones, according to the Pew survey, are considered by 47 percent of all adults polled as being a necessity in life.

An interesting side statistic your humble columnist found was among the young people with cell phones. Instead of spending time talking on them, they are now using them more for text messaging.

I was somewhat surprised when I read how Pew Research called our relationship with the television set as “schizophrenic.”

I believe Pew was attempting to explain how we are changing our perception of what we consider today as a “television” since we are able to view our video content and television programs from other electronic devices besides the traditional standard television set sitting in many of our living rooms.

Even though the survey shows television itself becoming less of a “necessity” in today’s everyday life, we are nonetheless buying more of the newer high-tech flat-screen television sets.

Surprisingly, Pew Research in its latest survey shows 10 percent of those polled as saying a flat-screen television set has now become a “necessity of life.”

There is some evidence to back this up.

More than 100 million flat-screen televisions have been purchased by US consumers during the last five years.

Getting back to telephone preference, Pew stated the percentages change based on the age of the person being surveyed.

Fifty-nine percent of 18 to 29 year-olds believe having a cell phone is more of a necessity than a landline telephone.

Of those in the 30 to 49 year group, 62 percent consider the landline phone a necessity over a cell phone by 11 percent.

The boomers in the 50 to 64 age range favored a landline phone over a cell phone by 21 percent, as 64 percent polled preferred having a landline telephone.

Of those surveyed age 65 and better, 77 percent considered having a landline phone as a necessity.

Pew reported Americans watching various kinds of video content over the Internet (which includes movies and television programming), is currently at 52 percent.

Also noted was the 31 percent of us who are listening to radio programming on our computers or other “non-traditional” radio devices, including iPhones and iPods.

This past spring, 14 percent of those polled who owned a cell phone said they had, in fact, watched television programs and other video content on their cell phones.

The bottom line is, we will continue to communicate with each other and watch our television programs and other video content.

The change taking place is the increasing speed of the technological transformation occurring in today’s ever-evolving and inventive world.

New technical innovations are allowing all of us as consumers to choose from a variety of new devices for communications, television viewing, and video content consumption.

The details of the Social & Demographic Trends report released by the Pew Research Center can be read at this shortened link,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

College bans all Internet social media access for one week

Sept. 27, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Could you go without using your favorite Internet social media network, like Twitter or Facebook, for one week?

This columnist would probably go through some sort of online social media deprivation withdrawal.

Two weeks ago the University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, PA made a decision to restrict the 800 students and teachers from using any Internet social media networks while on the college campus grounds.

Senior academic administrator Eric Darr said this was not a punishment, but rather an experiment in an attempt to get students and teachers to understand – through the use of critical thinking – the amount of time online social media usage takes up.

The decision caused a good deal of disagreement and bantering over the very same social media networks which were being blocked.

The Internet blogs and tweets were not very kind, with some saying how it is “a terrible thing and an infringement upon people’s rights,” said Darr.

“By-and-large, the students are supportive of the whole exercise and don’t get worked up over it,” he said.

One student, Ashley Harris, 22, stated the restrictions have allowed her to focus more on homework, instead of having to use her laptop for both social networking and her school lessons, while on the college campus.

“I feel obligated to check my Facebook. I feel obligated to check my Twitter. Now I don’t, I can just solely focus.” Harris said.

While on campus, any student or teacher attempting to access any of the popular social networking sites would see a “This domain is blocked” message.

They could also forget about sneaking around it by using Instant Messaging (IM), because IM was also blocked.

Excluded from the ban were e-mail and other “non-social” networking websites, such as search engines.

After all, it could almost be considered cruel and unusual punishment if the college were to ban everyone from the all-powerful and all-knowing Google.

The reason for this denial of on-campus social media networking access is due in part to a ComScore Inc. report which said people in the US spend more time using online social media networks like Facebook and Twitter than they do researching for information using search engines such as Google.

On Wednesday – during the middle of the online social media network blackout – the university was hosting – ironically enough – a “social media summit.”

The guest speaker that day was Sherrie Madia Ph.D., who is Director of communications, external affairs at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Madia also happens to use Twitter.

With no Twitter access on campus, this overly Twitter-obsessed columnist was very curious to learn what she thought about the university’s experiment, so I contacted her directly.

I sent her an e-mail (and a tweet message) asking what her feelings about the university’s experiment and being denied access to Twitter were while on campus.

The following is Madia’s message she sent to me:

‘This was an outstanding opportunity for all of us to pause to consider, “Why is it that we are tweeting, posting, updating, and checking in – in the first place?’

With regard to the lack of access to Twitter, the audience was actually able to focus on the panel discussion, as opposed to having to focus on being content creators. As presenters, we weren’t faced with the prospect of cheeky tweets throughout our performance, which can detract from the focus of a presentation.

Of course, media were presented with the insufferable delay of having to wait until the session ended to offer commentary (Note: Not a knock on the media; we are all now guilty of having anything other than instant feel like a test on our patience).

“The questions from the audience came just the same – no tweets required – particularly because they were seated just yards away. We were humans talking to humans without the aid of technology. Imagine that!”

The University of Science and Technology is a private not-for-profit school founded in 2003. It is located in a 16-story building in Harrisburg, PA.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One Gbps Internet speed is a reality in Chattanooga

Sept. 20, 2010
by Mark Ollig

How long would it take to download a 1GB (gigabyte) file from the Internet if you lived in Chattanooga, TN?

Using the city’s new cutting-edge 1Gbps Internet service and under perfect end-to-end conditions, about eight seconds.

Imagine being able to download a gigantic 1TB (terabyte) data file in only 2.2 hours.

The good folks in Chattanooga, TN now have access to “ultra-fast” 1Gbps (one gigabit-per-second) Internet speeds.

To understand just how fast 1Gbps is, imagine having a 1,000Mbps (megabits per second) connection to the Internet from your computer.

Today, the speed spotlight now shines on Chattanooga, TN, as this city has begun offering its residents and businesses the fastest Internet broadband service in the country.

The city of Chattanooga set a precedent and became the first city in the US to make available one gigabit-per-second Internet symmetrical speeds to 100,000 of the 170,000 citizen homes and businesses in the area Sept. 13.

“Internet symmetrical,” in this case, means the data uploaded to, and downloaded from, the Internet will occur at roughly the same speed.

By the end of 2010, all the homes and businesses within a 600-square-mile service area will have full access to the 1Gbps service.

Having access to a 1Gbps high-speed fiber-optic connection to the Internet doesn’t come without a price.

A Chattanooga resident can have what’s called “Fi-Speed Internet” at 1Gbps for $349.99 per month.

For a business, they could pay as high as $2,000 a month for 24/7 guaranteed availability with backup routing redundancy.

My old computer’s central processor would have an internal-core meltdown trying to handle that much broadband speed; however, today’s modern personal computers can work with 1Gbps.

It has been 25 years since I used 1200 bps (bits per second) modems. At that time, 1200 bps was thought of as “high-speed.”

Even 15 years ago, your former “WBBS OnLine” sysop’s 9600 bps dial-up modems used for public access to his computer bulletin board service, were considered fast for transmitting data.

I need to keep reminding myself it is 2010.

Chattanooga’s municipal-owned fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) company is called EPB Fiber Optics.

EPB (Electric Power Board) Fiber Optics operates their high-speed fiber-optic network infrastructure utilizing technology over a gigabit passive optical network (GPON).

I learned the city’s equipment/technology provider is Alcatel-Lucent.

By providing 1Gbps Internet broadband service, Chattanooga is now ten years ahead of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

The FCC plan calls for most of the US to have Internet access speeds of 100 Mbps by 2020.

“With access to the fastest broadband speeds in the United States, Chattanooga represents the next frontier in communications technology, with limitless potential for new applications for education, entertainment, health care, industrial development, and more,” said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB.

“The quicker connections are achieved primarily by stringing high-speed, fiber-optic cable directly into homes and businesses. Most cities connect homes to a fiber optic network with copper wires, which slow the transmission speed,” DePriest said.

While writing this column, I received a reply message on Twitter from user “ChattanooGig” which is the official Twitter user name for EPB’s Chattanooga 1Gbps service.

My question to them was, if there were any monthly GB (gigabyte) usage “capacity limits” with their 1Gbps service.

The reply I received read, “Fi-Speed Internet 1,000 [1000Mbps or 1Gbps] offers usage up to 150 gig per month. Customers will have the option to use more for a fee.”

EPB’s all fiber-optic GPON network not only provides incredible high-speed Internet access, it also provides the network for their commercial electrical power “Smart Grid” system.

The Smart Grid is anticipated to provide greater operational efficiency and more effective online power management tools for the city’s electric utility customers.

Funds to build the 1Gbps Internet network were facilitated in part by a $111 million grant the city received from the Department of Energy.

Twitter users can follow Chattanooga 1Gbps tweet messages at

The city of Chattanooga’s 1Gbps website is

With all this talk about Chattanooga, I keep hearing a particular 1941 song playing in my head.

“Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pew reports increased Internet usage by adults 50 and over

Sept. 13, 2010
by Mark Ollig

I’m not one for taking all the credit, but the folks in my age group are making some serious noise when it comes to the latest increase in Internet usage.

Our good friends at Pew Research tell us in their latest study, Internet social networking by adults age 50 to 64 has increased an incredible 88 percent, going from 25 to 47 percent between April of 2009 and May of 2010.

Looking back five years to September 2005, this number was only 7 percent.

Seniors age 65 and better, during the same period, had an amazing 100 percent increase, growing from 13 to 26 percent.


Having access to faster Internet speeds is one reason Pew says more older adults are using the Internet.

The Pew Research report points out, “Young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media, but their growth pales in comparison with recent gains made by older users,” said Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist and author of this Pew report.

Madden went on to say e-mail is the foremost way older folks keep in contact with family, colleagues, and friends. Recent studies, however, show them also relying on online Internet social networking sites, too.

I have noticed myself using Facebook messaging much more this past year when communicating with family members versus using traditional e-mail.

Twenty percent of 50-to-64 year-olds surveyed report using social networks every day.

Your humble columnist is definitely included in this percentile.

Ninety-two percent of us “boomers,” 50 to 64, are using the Internet daily for e-mail, while 89 percent of the folks 65 and better connect to the Internet for their daily e-mail.

Obtaining news from the Internet ranks high as one of the typical daily Internet viewing habits by 76 percent of adults 50 to 64.

Of the adults 65 and better, 34 percent use the Internet daily for gathering news information.

Pews reports less than 50 percent of adults 50 and better visit their online banking sites daily. This statistic surprised me, since I usually check my online bank account almost every day (just to make sure it still has a positive balance).

Twitter has also seen increased participation by adult users age 50 and better.

One in 10 Internet users 50 to 64 report using Twitter to follow the messages of others and to type updated messages about themselves.

One in 20 Internet users 65 and older say they use Twitter to share updates about themselves or view updates about the Twitter users they follow.

Twitter is now being used on a daily basis by 6 percent of adults 50 to 64.

According to Pew Research, a typical day on the Internet for adults 50 to 64 says includes using Twitter or a similar ‘status messaging’ service, check out the online classifieds, visiting social networking sites, doing some online banking, read some news and send or read e-mail.

A normal Internet day finds yours truly using Twitter, Facebook, AOL, Gmail, Justin TV, YouTube, my bank’s website, and also updating my online blog, which you can find at

I also check out a variety of local, national, international and technical news websites, as well.

Pew said their research confirms older adults are also using online social networks to reconnect with people from their past.

Increased use of Internet social networking sites has become the new medium for various support groups used by older adults when they are near retirement or embarking upon new careers.

Another reason older adults will use an online social network is when they are living with a specific medical condition. These adults will find online support from many specialized social networks which focus on their particular medical condition. Participation in online discussions with others experiencing similar health conditions is becoming more popular, not just for older adults, but for any age group.

Bridging generational gaps is another reason for being online.

Internet social networking sites allow for the sharing of stories, skills and life experiences between the younger and older generations.

The Internet also provides the means to easily communicate with far away family and friends.

In addition to simple e-mail or text messaging, there are software applications available such as “Skype,” which is commonly used for real-time video and voice communication.

From political and societal participation, continuing education, to involvement in local and national concerns; older adults today are making their voices heard over the numerous and varied social networking sites and blogs available on the Internet.

The Internet is now a convenient and easily accessible medium for all age groups – young and old – to communicate over.

Like using the telephone, we are now in constant communication with each other; sharing what is happening in our lives on a daily basis – using the Internet.

The number of folks from my generation and the generation before me utilizing the benefits and resources of this ever-growing Internet are unquestionably increasing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bloom Box parallels 'The Burden Water Wheel'

Sept. 6, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Yours truly overheard a friend at work talking about the “Bloom Box” he had seen on the “60 Minutes” television program.

“What’s a Bloom Box?” I asked him.

“It’s a box that powers homes or businesses electrical needs without being connected to the electrical grid,” he said.

The Sunnyvale, CA company which makes this technology is called Bloom Energy.

Bloom Energy’s co-founder and chief executive officer, KR Sridhar, was director of the Space Technologies Laboratory at the University of Arizona, and served as an advisor to NASA.

The Bloom Box physically looks like a large industrial steel refrigerator.

Inside, there are stacks of ceramic discs coated with a “secret formula” which generates electrical energy when a fuel source like natural gas or some “biomass” (organic material made by plants and animals) is sent into the box from one end, and oxygen is sucked in on the other end.

Your humble columnist is no Mr. Wizard; however, the resulting electro-chemical reaction between these elements using the coated discs does produce energy.

The Bloom Box is basically a power plant “in-a-box.”

Bloom Energy’s website,, has a video on their main page explaining the Bloom Box.

Notables such as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former General Colin Powel gave speeches in the video.

Bloom Boxes are in use today by Google, eBay, Wal-Mart, and the Coca-Cola Company.

Sridhar envisions the day when a home or business will no longer need to be connected to the wires from an electric utility.

The Bloom Box concept reminded me of The Burden Water Wheel.

In the 19th century, before electric utility lines canvassed the country, many factories needed to be involved in the energy business.

In his book, “The Big Switch,” Nicholas Carr begins chapter one by addressing the mid-1800s water wheel Henry Burden had designed and constructed to power the machines in his iron works factory.

I became immersed in Burden’s personal story about his energy-producing water wheel and other inventions.

Henry Burden, an engineer, was born in Dunblane, Scotland in 1791.

He lived in Albany, NY before moving to Troy, NY in 1822, to become superintendent of the Troy Iron and Nail Factory.

In 1848, Burden took ownership of the factory and changed its name to Henry Burden & Sons.

Burden reportedly had begun work on the water wheel around 1838; he completely rebuilt his original water wheel in 1851.

Burden had harnessed the power of the rushing water rapids flowing out of a stream from the waterfall near his factory.

Engineering a path for the water by building a dam to form a holding pond, Burden built a series of gates to control its flow into a canal feeding the large water wheel he constructed near the iron works factory.

Called “The Burden Water Wheel,” it was a 70-foot tall by 12-foot wide iron and wood water wheel with a central cast iron hub attached via 264 one-and-a-half inch thick iron rods. The rods were fastened to 10-by-10 inch pine timber, which formed the base the wooden floats or ‘buckets’ were built upon.

A person would rotate a hand-wheel on the base of the water wheel to increase or decrease the volume of water turning the water wheel, thus adjusting its speed and resulting power output as required by the machines operating in the factory.

The water wheel’s reported maximum capacity was 482 horsepower, with an average output of 282 horsepower.

The Burden Water Wheel, at one time, was the most powerful vertical water wheel in the world.

The poet, Louis Gaylor Clark called The Burden Water Wheel “The Niagara of Water Wheels.”

Henry Burden died in Troy NY Jan. 19, 1871.

It is said George Ferris Jr., upon seeing The Burden Water Wheel, was inspired to build a similar style structure with seats for people to ride on during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The Burden Water Wheel continued to generate the mechanical power needs of the factory his sons operated until it was stopped in 1896.

In the early 20th century, it became more cost-effective to operate factory machines using electricity from the commercial power grid versus constructing and maintaining water wheels or other independent power generation systems.

A photograph taken of The Burden Water Wheel after 1914, shows it lying on its side in ruins.

Apparently, the aging load-bearing brick pier on the south side had collapsed, causing the colossal water wheel to tip over.

Henry Burden’s famous water wheel ended up as a mangled pile of wreckage lying on the ground.

I felt this was a sad ending for The Burden Water Wheel.

The iron from the water wheel ended up being used as scrap metal just before World War II began.

Additional information about The Burden Water Wheel can be found from the Society for Industrial Archeology at

They say what goes around, comes around.

Those independent power generation systems might be coming around once again – starting with technologies like the Bloom Box.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Keep the Internet equally accessible for everyone

August 30, 2010
by Mark Ollig

The FCC’s public hearing on net neutrality in Minneapolis Aug. 19 looked to be more of a future Internet town hall meeting.

My understanding of net neutrality ensures all websites, social networks, blogs and other publicly available sites have equal accessibility over the Internet network by all Internet users.

In summary; all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

I do recognize the companies who make available and maintain the Internet network have the right to a fair return on the services they provide – however, there are definite concerns many of us have if there is no net neutrality.

Here’s one possible future scenario I can imagine:

The corporations operating various parts of the Internet network could begin to offer preferential treatment to a larger website or social network by providing them with an ‘enhanced’ Internet service. They could offer, say, a “premium Internet presence” option for a substantial monthly fee.

This additional cost might consist of exclusive bandwidth allocation or some type of “guaranteed” preferred connection availability to their website over that of a similar website not paying the extra fee.

In this tiered service scenario, preferential treatment takes place over smaller business and individual sites that are unable to afford the premium service fee imposed by the companies used to maintain their presence on the Internet.

With no net neutrality, the Internet could turn into the network of toll-roads and cash registers – essentially blocking out or reducing the bandwidth availability to many websites. Internet service providers could possibly begin charging Internet users access to popular sites on the Web currently reachable for free.

I do not believe this is what the original pioneers of the Internet culture, the virtual community, and those who established the Web envisioned for the future.

Okay, I will step off of my soapbox . . . for now.

The hearing was being live-streamed at The UpTake website. The UpTake also provided a chat room for online users text messages and comments which I participated in.

The UpTake was established in July 2007, and is a “citizen-fueled, online video news gathering organization” based in St. Paul. It is made up of citizen journalists. The UpTake says they are “an alternative to the mainstream media.”

Online messaging about the hearing was also taking place on Twitter, so I was text messaging there, as well.

FCC commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, along with Senator Al Franken, appeared at the hearing.

Ritchie opened the hearing with “. . . we’re gathered to share, we’re gathered to help shape the future.”

Franken spoke on the importance of keeping the Internet open to everyone and not allowing it to be controlled by the large corporations.

“Without net neutrality, Internet access would be determined by the four or five corporations that could determine what info gets out,” Franken said.

Copps stated he “. . . will not settle for profit driven corporate-owned Internet that doesn’t benefit the people.”

“Our job now is to correct course and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service,” he said.

“An open Internet is the great equalizer,” said Clyburn in her remarks to the people in attendance. She continued, “Without a free and open Internet, we wouldn’t have seen Facebook, Twitter or YouTube in less than 10 years.”

“More Americans rely on the Internet each and every day, it has become the center of our economic lives and essential to our futures,” she said.

On Twitter, some messages expressed concerns about the government regulating the Internet. Others spoke out against the large network carrier’s possible intent of selling “preferential access” bandwidth.

One message said “by controlling Internet access, they are, for all practical purposes, acting as the Internet gatekeepers.”

“The Internet should be a level playing field for everyone,” another message read.

Twitter buzzed with messages using hashtags like “internetmn,” “netneutrality” and “fccnn.”

Over 100 people from the audience spoke during the public hearing. I noted most were expressing the importance of having the Internet remain fully open and equally accessible by everyone.

“Let’s build broadband, not bombs,” said one audience member standing before the commissioners.

The statement received loud applause.

At one point the number of people watching the live-stream videocast over the Internet reached 800.

“This is what an open Internet looks like. . .” one Twitter message stated after seeing this number.

The hearing lasted a full four hours.

After the hearing concluded, some of us spoke online with the people from The UpTake about how this event turned out to be a good example of citizen journalism, government representation, and public and online participation.

People’s voices were heard. Hopefully their concerns will be taken into account when final decisions regarding net neutrality are made.

Watch the complete public hearing at: