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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