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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.