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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New research says Google/Internet enhances our intelligence

March 1, 2010

by Mark Ollig

“The Future of the Internet IV” report was recently released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

This report suggests the means used to acquire information from the Internet adds to our intelligence.

Part one of this report recognizes the controversial 2008 article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” written for The Atlantic magazine by Nicholas Carr.

In this article, Carr states his ability to concentrate is being reduced because of the ease of online searching. Carr said browsing for information over the web was possibly limiting his capacity to concentrate.

The first sentence in Carr’s article attempts to set the scene in his reader’s minds by quoting the line from the 1968 movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey” between the exceptionally intelligent supercomputer named “Hal” and Dr. Dave Bowman, the human astronaut.

“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” Hal desperately pleads as Dave continues to disconnect the memory modules from the supercomputer which had become too controlling over him.

Carr appears to use this scene to imply we are losing our ability to think for ourselves, that we are becoming overly dependent upon the computing devices and sources that find information for us over the Internet.

After reading Carr’s article, I found myself in agreement with the author questioning himself when he suggests “. . . maybe I’m just a worrywart.”

A year after Nicholas Carr’s article hit the mainstream, a counter article appeared in the same magazine by Jamais Cascio, who suggested that “Google isn’t the problem; it’s the beginning of a solution.” Cascio also wrote, “. . . there’s no going back. The information sea isn’t going to dry up.”

Pew Research mentions the Carr and Cascio articles and uses them as comparison background in their report.

In this latest report, 895 expert respondents were asked to share their view of how our human intellect is being affected by the ability to have information easily obtained over Google and the Internet.

This report also asks how this ability would affect us 10 years into the future.

The final Pew survey results included hundreds of the written responses.

Under Part 1, Pew asks whether Google will make people stupid.

Dean Bubley, a wireless industry consultant said, “I think that certain tasks will be “offloaded” to Google or other Internet services rather than performed in mind, especially remembering minor details . . . ”

“Google allows us to be more creative in approaching problems and more integrative in our thinking. We spend less time trying to recall and more time generating solutions,” wrote Paul Jones, who is from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

On the other hand, Robert Acklund from the Australian National University gives an interesting synopsis by saying, “My ability to do mental arithmetic, is worse than my grandfathers because I grew up in an era with pervasive personal calculators . . . I am not stupid compared to my grandfather, but I believe the development of my brain has been changed by the availability of technology.

“The same will happen (or is happening) as a result of the Googleization of knowledge. People are becoming used to bite sized chunks of information that are compiled and sorted by an algorithm. This must be having an impact on our brains, but it is too simplistic to say that we are becoming stupid as a result of Google.”

After reading Aucklund’s thoughts, I am once again reminded not all of the information available on the Internet is “good” or “reliable” information, so, like a famous president once said, “Trust, but verify.”

Seventy-six percent of these experts agree Google “won’t make us stupid.”

Pew asks, “Will the Internet still be free and unfettered in 2020, or will there be more control of information?” Sixty-one percent of the experts surveyed said they believe the Internet’s original purpose of free and open access to all information will still exist.

Christine Greenhow, an educational researcher at the University of Minnesota and Yale Information and Society Project says “We might imagine that in 10 years, our definition of intelligence will look very different. By then, we might agree on “smart” as something like a ‘networked’ or ‘distributed’ intelligence, where knowledge is our ability to piece together various and disparate bits of information into coherent and novel forms.”

Sixty-five percent agreed with the Pew statement that “by 2020, reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge will be improved.”

“As the Internet gets more sophisticated, it will enable a greater sense of empowerment among users. We will not be more stupid, but we will probably be more dependent upon it,” writes Bernie Hogan, from the Oxford Internet Institute.

“Three out of four experts said our use of the Internet enhances and augments human intelligence, and two-thirds said use of the Internet has improved reading, writing and rendering of knowledge,” concluded Janna Anderson, who co-authored this latest Pew Research report.

The link to Nicholas Carr’s article is:

Jamais Cascios article is at:

You can read “The Future of the Internet IV” Pew Research report at this shortened link:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Our communities lay claim to US patent fame

February 15, 2010
By Mark Ollig

This week, we will take a break from the “That’s so amazing!” high-tech gadget columns.

Your Bits & Bytes columnist has been known for finding himself immersed in browsing the United States Patent Office web site for hours.

Tell me, what is more interesting than reading about all those famous (and not so famous) patented inventions?

The real reason I spent so much time searching the US Patent Office web site in the beginning (around 1996), can be attributed to my desire to see a copy of the US patent my father obtained.

Difficulties I ran into back then included search term queries – which were extremely limited for one thing – plus I needed to use a special software program (Visio) to view the technical drawings.

Today, it is much more straightforward when performing searches and viewing those technical drawings.

Last week, I found another way to search for patents online which helped me learn a bit about my own city’s patent history.

Since I grew up and worked in Winsted, I wanted to learn about any US patents attributed to my hometown.

As some of you may be aware, there are in fact two Winsteds, the other being in Connecticut.

When I entered my search term for Winsted, MN, I was amazed with the results.

The earliest issued patent for Winsted I found was from Oct. 17, 1871 and it belonged to Eli F. Lewis, who is considered by many to be the founder of Winsted.

His patent 119,933 is titled IMPROVEMENT IN WASH-BOILERS.

“Be it known that I, Eli F. Lewis, of Winsted Lake, in the County of McLeod and State of Minnesota, have invented certain Improvements in Automatic Washers . . .” states the first sentence on the patent.

Included in his patent are two drawings. Eli F. Lewis’s patent can be seen at

US Patent 211,477 was filed Oct. 5, 1878 by Narsice Sailvail of Winsted, MN.

The patent was titled IMPROVEMENT IN LINIMENTS. After a complete description and list of the ingredients, the following words are recorded on the patent: “The medicine is used in the cure of burns, sprains, bruises, rheumatism, fever-sores, &c., [sic] as a liniment.”

Narsice Sailvail’s US Patent 211,477 issue date occurred Jan. 21, 1879 and can be viewed at

US Patent 774,543 was listed as PARTY LINE TELEPHONE SYSTEM.

This patent was filed Nov. 20, 1903 by Felton Vollmer, a person whose name is well- known to those of us who grew up in Winsted.

Felton Vollmer was Winsted’s first mayor.

The patent description starts with, “Be it known that I, Felton Vollmer, a citizen of the United States, and a resident of Winsted, in the County of McLeod and State of Minnesota, have invented a new and Improved Party-Line Telephone System, of which the following is a full, clear, and exact description.”

Vollmer goes on and gives a very truthful description of a telephone party-line, which this humble old telephone man can appreciate.

Three pages of drawings are shown by the inventor, and the next few pages of the patent description are exceptionally defined, insofar as the specific schematic description of materials used.

Felton Vollmer describes in precise detail how the contact-springs, magnets, ohms, resistance (resistors) wires, and other intricate components are attached and used.

Vollmer’s final summation of his invention is well worth reading.

Felton Vollmer’s US Patent number 774,543 issue date was Nov. 8, 1904. It can be seen at

Enoch E. Ritchie of Howard Lake Minnesota filed US Patent number 549,535 June 28, 1895 titled WASHING MACHINE.

In his patent application, Ritchie says about his invention, “The invention relates to improvements in washing-machines.”

Ritchie also states, “The object of the present invention is to improve the construction of washing-machines, and to provide a simple and inexpensive one which will enable the operation of washing to be rapidly and thoroughly effected without injuring the fabrics, and at the expenditure of a minimum amount of labor.”

The patent also includes two well-drawn diagrams of his improved washing machine.

Ritchie’s US Patent number 549,535 issue date was Nov. 12, 1895 and can be seen at

Sept. 5, 1882, Stephen Woodard of Delano, MN filed US Patent 276,950 titled as SIDING BRACKET.

Woodards begins his patent description with, “This invention has for its objects to provide an improved bracket to be employed for supporting the sidings in the construction of frame buildings while they are being nailed to the frame-work of the building and adjusting them to any desired position accurately and without trouble, as more fully hereinafter specified.”

A detailed drawing of the siding bracket is included in his patent.

Woodard’s US Patent number 276,950 issue date was May 1, 1883 and can be seen at

US Patent number 461,543 which was filed Dec. 27, 1890, belongs to Charles J. Carlson, of Cokato, MN.

Carlson’s patent was titled CURRY-COMB AND CLEANER.

I admit, I am not up on my curry combs, so I checked the Oxford pocket dictionary and found they are “. . . used for removing dirt out of a horse’s coat or for cleaning brushes with which a horse is being groomed.”

Carlson states on his patent, “The invention relates to improvements in curry-combs and cleaners. The object of the present invention is to provide a simple and inexpensive curry-comb and means for readily and effectively cleaning the same.”

Three nicely drawn diagrams of the curry-comb and cleaner are attached to the patent as well.

Carlson’s US Patent number 461,543 issue date was Oct. 20, 1891 and you can see it at

The patent information I used for this column was obtained from the beta web site at:

The web site is for the official United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Apple ends the suspense and presents the iPad

February 8, 2010
By Mark Ollig

The rumors were that Apple’s new tablet computing device was going to be called the iSlate or the iTablet.

Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs walked out onto the stage at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco to make the dramatic announcement in front of an anxiously awaiting audience Jan. 27.

Yours truly was watching the live video-stream broadcast over the Internet.

Jobs was dressed in his traditional laid-back blue jeans and comfortable looking black turtle neck sweater.

On this day, Jobs started his keynote by talking about how we use laptops and smart-phones, and whether there was some computing device that could be in the middle of the two.

I thought the netbook was this middle piece.

Jobs magically seemed to anticipate my thought and said in front of the audience “. . . some people had thought that’s a netbook. The problem is netbooks aren’t better at anything.”

This remark drew laughter and applause from the audience.

“They are just cheap laptops,” Jobs continued. “We don’t think they are a third-category device,” he said.

There was a moment of silence.

Jobs finally broke the tension by saying “But we think we’ve got something that is . . . and we call it, the iPad.”

“I happen to have one right here,” he said as he held up the half-inch thin, tablet-like device, about the size of a sheet of paper.

The audience in attendance erupted in spontaneous applause.

When I saw Jobs holding this new iPad, my first thought was that it looked like a larger version of my iPodtouch.

The iPad weighs 1.5 pounds and has a 9.7-inch LED-backlit, glossy, wide, multi-touch display screen. And just like ordering eye glasses with “scratch proofing,” the iPad screen incorporates a “fingerprint-resistant oleophobic” coating.

All iPads will have built-in Wi-Fi, and some will have 3G capability for Internet access via a cellular phone network.

Jobs proceeded to sit down in a chair on stage with the working iPad and demonstrated how easy it was to get on the Internet. He then accessed and scrolled through the front page of the online New York Times newspaper.

Jobs pointed out how nice it was being able to see the whole web page at one time.

There was one embarrassing moment while Jobs was opening a news story containing a media format which did not load on the iPad. The media format was coded in Adobe Flash, which Apple’s iPad does not support.

Jobs then quickly exited the New York Times and went to the Time magazine web site for a brief moment.

While on the National Geographic web site, Jobs turned the iPad sideways and the screen changed from portrait to landscape viewing mode.

At each web site visited, Jobs stated how easy it was to navigate the web page by simply using the touch of a finger – there’s no need to use a mouse.

Jobs said how “phenomenal” it was to “hold the Internet in your hands.”

Reading e-mail is easier on an iPad versus an iPodtouch. Typing a message is effortless using the almost life-size on-screen touch QWERTY keyboard.

Photos can be stored as “stacks of albums” in the iPad, and Jobs demonstrated how easily they can be viewed and shared.

The iPad’s calendar, address and contact book, along with a map application, were also shown.

Jobs said the iPad is “an awesome way to enjoy your music collection.”

Of course, Jobs also mentioned the iPad’s “built-in” iTunes store, where one can purchase music, movies, TV shows, podcasts and more.

The over 140,000 available Apple applications will work with the iPad.

During Job’s demonstration using e-mail, I noted he was able to successfully open the attached Adobe PDF file. It would have been a bigger surprise if the iPad did not support a common Portable Document File.

Jobs then showed how simple it was to start a slideshow presentation using music in any of his photo albums, which brought applause from the audience in attendance.

I was impressed how effortless it is to just “tap-tap-tap” or glide your finger on the touch screen to maneuver on the Internet or using an application.

No doubt playing games or “gaming” will become one of the iPad’s popular uses also.

The iPad scores high on the comfort factor – heck, my mother might even enjoy using the iPad to do her crossword puzzles on.

The iPad comes in 16, 32 or 64GB flash drive sizes which provides plenty of storage space for video, applications, games, music, and photos.

During the demonstrations, the high-resolution, full-color, 9.7-inch, back-lit screen displayed crisp, easy-to-read text, while the colors were bright and vivid.

The iPad is powered by Apple’s 1 GHz A4 custom-designed processor.

The internal rechargeable lithium-polymer battery will provide up to 10 hours of web surfing, video watching, or music listening.

One description of the iPad – which I like – calls it a “media consumption device.”

Apple also announced their new iBooks store, where e-books can be downloaded and read on the iPad. This appears to be Apple’s shot “across the bow” at the popular Kindle book reader.

McGraw-Hill has made arrangements with Apple to develop school textbook, study guide, and test-preparation applications for use on the iPad.

The FCC needs to approve the iPad before they can be sold to the public, so look for the iPad being available sometime this summer.

To learn more and see the accessories for the iPad, go to