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Thursday, September 29, 2011

First artificial space satellite launched 54 years ago

Oct. 3, 2011
by Mark Ollig

In 1952 the International Council of Scientific Unions proposed the Internal Geophysical Year (IGY) to be July 1957 to December 1958.

During the IGY, a series of scientific global activities would be performed.

A technical panel established for the IGY worked on what would be required in order to launch an artificial satellite that could orbit the Earth.

Both the United States and Soviet Union had announced plans to launch Earth-orbiting artificial satellites.

While the US space satellite program (called Vanguard) was an open and public undertaking, the Soviet program was being conducted in secret.

The historic event happened Friday, Oct. 4, 1957.

It began when a Soviet R-7 two-stage rocket (number 8K71PS) was successfully launched near Baikonur, a small town located in the remote Russian region of the Kazakhstan Republic.

The R-7 weighed approximately 267 tons at liftoff.

This rocket was more or less a Russian Soviet ballistic missile without the military warhead attached.

Instead of a warhead, the rocket carried into space a payload called PS-1, better known as Sputnik 1.

Sputnik, meaning “fellow traveler or companion,” orbited the Earth once every 92 minutes at a speed of 18,000 mph from a height of 139 miles.

The Sputnik 1 satellite was a metallic, highly polished 23-inch-diameter orb made of an aluminum-magnesium-titanium combination weighing 184 pounds.

Four spring-loaded, “cat-whisker-looking” whip-like antennas extended both 7.9 and 9.5 ft., from the satellite.

The satellite’s one-watt radio transmitter was powered from two of three on-board silver-zinc batteries. The third battery was used to power Sputnik’s internal temperature and other instrument systems.

In October of 1957, many people became fixated listening to the steady radio signal pattern of “beep-beep-beep-beep . . .”

Those beeps were being transmitted from Sputnik’s antennas at the 20.005 and 40.002 MHz frequency bands.

Sputnik’s radio transmissions were being closely listened to by people from around the world through their radios and televisions.

Sputnik’s radio signals also included encoded information about the satellite’s internal and external temperature and pressure readings, along with the density of the Earth’s ionosphere the radio signals had traveled through.

You can listen to one minute of the actual recorded radio signal beeps from Sputnik 1 at This link goes to a Wave Sound (.wav) audio format file.

Tracking of Sputnik 1 while in orbit was accomplished by way of the Soviet’s P-30 “Big Mesh” radar, and by the use of ground-based telescopes.

There were also people on the ground that looked up and saw the bright spot of sunlight being reflected off the highly polished Sputnik 1 as it sped over their heads across the night sky.

While Sputnik 1 orbited the Earth, Americans’ emotions ranged from shock and amazement to being downright frightened and distressed.

A number of people worried that instead of just harmless, beeping Soviet satellites orbiting over the United States, Soviet ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads might be attached on the next payload.

I mean, after all, it was 1957, and the US and Soviet Union were in the middle of the Cold War.

For the most part, the Soviet Union had clearly taken the lead in this new “space race” between the two super powers.

First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev viewed Sputnik’s triumph as an unmatched propaganda value for the Soviet space program.

During a news conference Oct. 9, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower, in an attempt to subdue any public hysteria, tried to diminish the importance of Sputnik 1 by saying, “Now, so far as the satellite itself is concerned, that does not raise my apprehensions, not one iota. I see nothing at this moment, at this stage of development, that is significant in that development as far as security is concerned, except, as I pointed out, it does definitely prove the possession by the Russian scientists of a very powerful thrust in their rocketry, and that is important.”

On the other side of the world, what did the Russian people feel about the launch of Sputnik 1?

Semyon Reznik is a Russian writer and journalist, but Oct. 4, 1957, he was a Russian college student.

Reznik recalled what was being broadcast over Russian radio at the time of Sputnik’s launch and the Russian people’s response.

“The day our satellite Sputnik was launched, a special voice came over the radio to announce it to us . . . .” Reznik repeated the announcement; “Attention. All radio stations of the Soviet Union are broadcasting . . . Our satellite Sputnik is in space.”

Reznik talked about the people’s reaction; “Everyone felt so proud and wondered who did it? No names were named for years.”

Sputnik 1 continued to broadcast beeps until its radio transmitter batteries became exhausted Oct. 26, 1957.

The flight of the first Earth-orbiting satellite came to an end Jan. 4, 1958, when Sputnik 1 re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up.

The US launched its first Earth-orbiting satellite, called Explorer 1 Jan. 31, 1958.

About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Microsoft shows developers Internet Explorer 10

Sept. 26, 2011
by Mark Ollig

A version of Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer 10 (IE 10) was shown during the recent Microsoft Build Developers Conference.

“In Windows 8, IE 10 is available as a Metro style app and as a desktop app. The desktop app continues to fully support all plug-ins and extensions. The HTML5 and script engines are identical and you can easily switch between the different frame windows if you’d like,” explained Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky in a recent Microsoft Development Network blog posting.

HTML5 is the latest version of the Hypertext Markup Language programming code. It is a scripted computing language used in the creation of web pages.

Microsoft is abandoning the need to incorporate Adobe Flash coding by using the HTML5 code.

Adobe Flash, which uses the Adobe Flash Player, is a cross-platform, browser-based application used for displaying video and multimedia content on computer web browsers. It is used in most computing and mobile devices.

“For the web to move forward and for consumers to get the most out of touch-first browsing, the metro style browser in Windows 8 is as HTML5-only as possible, and plug-in free,” wrote Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer group.

Microsoft has thrown down the gauntlet, and is proceeding into the future without embedding Flash into their browsers; a bold move on their part, and not without its critics, I might add.

Windows 8 includes one HTML5 browsing engine that powers a user’s two individual browsing experiences: the Metro style browser and the IE 10 used with desktop applications.

Microsoft states this HTML5 browsing engine will provide support for today’s web standards, in addition to being a reliable, safe, fast, and powerful web developer programming tool when used for browser experiences, as well as for the new metro-style apps to be created.

The new IE 10 update includes support for on-screen touch-friendly websites and incorporates rich, visual effects technologies and sophisticated web page layouts.

IE 10 includes a built-in spell checker, along with an auto correct feature; so, when I type “teh” it will be auto corrected to “the.”

The history of the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser started in August 1995, with the release of Internet Explorer 1.0, which was used with Microsoft Windows 95.

Windows 95 included the technologies needed for connecting to the Internet, along with built-in support for dial-up networking to a Bulletin Board System (BBS) or other device.

During the mid-1990s, we used dial-up networking for accessing hobby BBSs and for our work.

Yours truly used dial-up networking for maintaining telephony devices, such as digital and electronic business phone systems and my hometown’s telephone digital switching office.

Internet Explorer 1.0 was originally shipped separately to retailers as the “Internet Jumpstart Kit in Microsoft Plus! For Windows 95.”

Consumers could also buy it pre-installed with Windows 95 when they purchased a new computer.

Internet Explorer 2.0 was released in November1995. It was a cross-platform web browser used in Macintosh and Microsoft Windows 32-bit computing systems.

Some trivia: Using Internet Explorer 2.0, one could view the famous “Trojan Room coffee pot,” which was the world’s first webcam. This webcam showed the current amount of coffee remaining inside a coffee pot in the computer laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

You might recall the column I wrote April 4 called “Computing ingenuity led to the creation of ‘XCoffee’.”

In 1991, at the University of Cambridge, a video camera was rigged to capture live, still-frame images of a working coffeepot every three seconds. These images were encoded and sent over the college’s local computer network.

The scholarly researchers (working in other parts of the building), could visually see the current status of the amount of coffee remaining in the coffeepot on a small image snapshot display in the corner of their computer screens.

The real-time XCoffee images made available to the world over the Internet in 1993 became an instant sensation.

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 3.0 in August 1996. It was also designed for Windows 95 and included Internet Mail, News 1.0, and the Windows Address Book.

Microsoft NetMeeting and Windows Media Player were later added to Internet Explorer 3.0.

Internet Explorer 4.0 was released in October 1997. It was used with Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT.

Internet Explorer 4.0 allowed web pages to be more interactive. File menus could be expanded with a mouse click, and icon images could be dragged around and repositioned.

Internet Explorer 5.0 was released in March 1999. One new feature included the Windows Radio Toolbar which could access more than 300 Internet radio stations broadcasting around the world at that time.

Internet Explorer 6.0 was released with Windows XP in 2001.

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7.0 Oct. 18, 2006. It included Quick Tabs, which provided an at-a-glance snapshot of all open tabs on a single screen.

Internet Explorer 8.0 was released during March 2009. It was offered in 25 languages.

This year, Internet Explorer 9.0 became available for users of Windows 7. One of its many features includes automatic crash recovery.

IE 10 will be publicly released with Windows 8 on a yet-to-be-determined date, so once again; stay tuned everyone.

About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Microsoft reveals Windows 8

Sept. 19, 2011
by Mark Ollig

Microsoft said this would be the biggest change to Windows computing since they released their revolutionary Windows 95 OS (operating system) 16 years ago.

Get ready folks, here comes the new interactive and touch-centric Windows 8.

Last Tuesday, yours truly, along with others online, watched the much anticipated Microsoft keynote address live via a webcast from the Microsoft Windows BUILD conference in Anaheim, CA.

Microsoft Build Professional Developers Conference is an event where hardware and software developers go to learn and exchange ideas for creating the next generation of hardware systems, software programs, and apps (applications) supporting Microsoft Windows operating systems.

Steven Sinofsky, Windows division president, began the keynote address by talking about the improvements made to Microsoft’s current operating system, Windows 7.

He then moved on to the primary focus of the keynote address: Microsoft Windows 8 OS.

Sinofsky is convinced traditional PC (personal computer) users, once they start using Windows 8, will become hooked navigating apps and entering text using on-screen touch-computing.

He did, however, reassure everyone that Windows 8 can be used with the traditional keyboard and mouse.

Sinofsky touted the immersive computing environment and touch-centric capabilities of Windows 8, as the “Metro experience.”

“Fast and fluid” is how Microsoft said they want Windows 8 apps to perform for the user.

Windows 8 uses an intuitive “Metro-style” full-screen touch-centric user interface design, featuring Start Menu program applications viewed as interactive widget-like “tiles,” instead of the familiar looking classic Windows program icon boxes we see on our existing Windows desktop.

The interactive touch-based interface provides the Metro-experience, which has been compared to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 OS user interface.

Sinofsky also pointed out Windows 8 only uses about 281 MB of memory, whereas Windows 7 requires around 404 MB to operate.

Sinofsky then introduced Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president of Windows Program Management.

Larson-Green demonstrated features of Windows 8 using mobile tablet devices.

The Windows 8 default screen, or “lock-screen,” pops up when the screen times out or before a user logs on.

The lock-screen displays remaining battery power, Internet signal status, current email message count, video message count, and a timeline display showing the user’s current calendar appointment message.

With a touch and swipe of her finger against the computing screen, Larson-Green leaves the lock-screen and shows us how to use the new log-in screen.

Her individualized, password protect-screen, shows a picture of her daughter holding a glass of lemonade. The “picture password” code is entered as she uses her index finger and presses it on her daughter’s nose and then presses on the lemonade glass she is holding and finger swipes a line.

Larson-Green had previously programmed this particular picture password code-combination.

This unlocked the computer, and brought up the Windows 8 Start screen.

The Start screen held a collection of user apps that came bundled with Windows 8, as well as new prototype apps developed by Microsoft summer interns (who were in attendance).

Users can navigate through and launch Windows 8 apps via finger swipes, taps, and flicks; similar to how we navigate through the pictures, videos, songs, and apps stored on our various mobile devices.

During the demonstration, I noticed how easy it was for Larson-Green to navigate and use the tiled applications on the computing tablet screen.

If a user has a large collection of applications, instead of scrolling through pages of them (via finger swipes), you can see them all at once by using a two- finger pinch technique which zooms the view of all the apps outward, thus shrinking the size of the tiled apps to where you can see them all at once.

The apps can then be individually accessed, customized, re-arranged or moved into separate groups, and can be given individual names.

The Windows 8 Start screen can be personally customized and re-arranged so applications appear where you want them to.

Users will appreciate knowing Windows 8 cold boots (starts up) in less than 10 seconds.

Another feature demonstrated was the system-wide spell-checker built-in to Windows 8 that can be used by any app.

Windows 8 has a convenient one-step process to wipe the computer clean and restore it to the original factory settings; Microsoft fittingly calls this feature: Reset.

Removing corrupted system software without losing your system file settings and applications (downloaded from the soon-to-be Windows 8 App Store) can be accomplished using the Refresh feature.

Microsoft appears to be heading into the future focusing on an operating system using Metro-styled interactive apps functional on both traditional computers and mobile computing device display screens.

Windows 8 is taking us into an immersive, intuitive, touch-centric, and interactive digital computing environment navigable by means of finger touch swipes, flicks, taps, and pinches.

Sounds like fun.

No release date was given during the presentation regarding a beta version of the Windows 8 operating system for the general public.

Sinofsky said, “We’re going to be driven by the quality, and not by a date.”

To watch the two-hour opening keynote address demonstrating Windows 8 features and some very cool developer application code programming, go to

About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

IBM 'cognitive' computing chip emulates human brain

Sept. 12, 2011
by Mark Ollig

Using advanced algorithms and digital silicon circuitry, those clever computing folks at IBM are at it again.

What do you call a silicon core that is capable of replicating the human brain’s neurons, synapses, and thread-like axons?

It’s called an IBM neurosynaptic computing chip.

It seems every year a new technological breakthrough keeps bringing us closer to creating an intelligent and independently thinking computer like the HAL 9000, as seen in the sci-fi movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

IBM’s latest breakthrough involves digitally mirroring and designing onto neurosynaptic silicon computing chips, the manner in which cells in the human brain are able to observe, think, reason, learn, and carry out problem solving.

This latest breakthrough in technology will bring about the creation of what IBM calls “cognitive computers.”

This futurist path towards creating an artificial intellect inside a computer causes me to feel both enthusiastic, and yet somewhat frightened . . . but I digress.

In a released statement, IBM said two prototype computing chips have already been manufactured and are now being tested.

The two prototype chips were constructed at IBM’s advanced chip-making facility in Fishkill, NY.

These two working chip cores were fabricated on 45 nanometer Silicon on Insulator-Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (SOI-CMOS) material and contain 256 neurons.

One chip core contains connecting points consisting of 262,144 programmable synapses, and the other core contains 65,536 learning synapses.

IBM said these newly created cognitive computing prototype chips contain no, I repeat, no biological elements; they are made only from digital silicon circuits.

The long-term goal is to create a cognitive computing chip system with 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses using one kilowatt of energy, all while occupying a space a little smaller than the size of a 2-liter soda bottle.

IBM’s much publicized supercomputer, named Watson, processed information over a series of computing systems consisting of eight refrigerator-sized cabinet bays.

Our brain, on the other hand, processes information inside of a coconut-sized pinkish-gray mass weighing approximately 3 pounds.

Watson played the “Jeopardy!” television game show using 15TB (terabyte) (or 15,360 gigabytes) of random access memory.

Comparatively, the human brain has the capacity to store around 2.5 PB (petabyte) (or 2,621,440 gigabytes) of informational memory.

Cognitive computing architecture is, according to IBM, “an on-chip network of light-weight cores, creating a single integrated system of hardware and software.”

Neurosynaptic computing chips working inside a cognitive computer will ultimately be able to reprogram themselves based upon interactions within its surroundings and past learning experiences.

Wisconsin researchers are also playing a part in this IBM project.

Giulio Tononi is a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychiatrist and neuroscientist. He leads the University of Wisconsin-Madison team involved in designing the software to teach the computing chips to learn and think.

“We are using the new IBM neurosynaptic chip to develop cognitive computing architectures that are good at integrating information – a key adaptive feature that the brain excels at, and which has proven difficult to achieve using conventional computers,” said Tononi.

There are also nanotechnology and supercomputing experts from Cornell University and the University of California, Merced, working with IBM on the hardware design.

Examples of early, real-world use of cognitive computing may include cognitive processors inside traffic lights which would monitor traffic sights and sounds and alert those nearby of any immediate danger.

Cognitive processors could also utilize sensors and detect physical hazards and even smells (like underground gas leaks), and alert people of unsafe conditions.

Workers in food-related industries, such as those involved in food processing, distribution, inventory, or food inspection, could wear an instrumented cognitive glove while handling fresh and frozen food.

This intelligent glove could monitor and detect food spoilage, warn of unsafe food or environmental temperatures, and provide other information.

I talked with Kelly Simms, IBM Communications media contact, and asked if any release dates for government, commercial, or public use of this new neurosynaptic chip technology had been projected. Simms replied, “No, not at this time.”

My hope is when this ground-breaking technology finally comes to fruition, it will be used wisely, and to everyone’s benefit.

My concern is that these intelligent, neurosynaptic-core, digital silicon-chip, cognitive computers could eventually develop to the point of self-awareness, take over the planet, and, after finding us humans inferior, decide it would be in their own best interest to reprogram our brains in order that we might be of better service to them.

Of course, the aforementioned concern is merely your overly-imaginative and highly-caffeinated sci-fi-loving columnist’s worst-case scenario.

The day in which humans succeed in creating an artificial intelligence, emulating true singularity, is rapidly approaching.

Be sure to check out the “IBM Cognitive Computing” video uploaded by IBM Research at

I trust the designers of these intelligent, cognitive computing systems will install an override switch on them – you know, just in case the one with the superior intellect becomes too confrontational, like how the HAL 9000 computer became when it refused to open the pod bay doors for astronaut Dr. David Bowman.

“Open the garage bay doors, HAL.”

“I’m sorry, Mark. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.