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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are our brains becoming technologically 're-wired?'

April 2, 2012
by Mark Ollig

This question is being raised in relation to how we obtain and process information in this day of hyper-linked, packet-switched, instantaneously provided Internet results.

Are we placing too much trust and reliance upon the information we can easily find using the Internet?

Instead of depending upon one’s own brain for storing and recalling information, it has become almost effortless to simply type a keyword in the web browser, or click a bookmark that enables a hyperlink which recalls’ the information for us from an Internet-based data server.

“As machine intelligence advances, the first response of humans is to offload their intelligence and motivation to the machines,” said John Smart, founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation.

Are we really making progress because of our instant access to information? Or, are we surrendering too much of our own brain power to computing memory devices and processors, which may someday end up doing most of our remembering and research for us?

“There is no doubt that brains are being rewired,” said Danah Boyd of Microsoft Research.

Today’s young adults and teens are comfortable using mobile devices, whether it’s an iPhone, Android, or other smartphone or tablet computing device. They maintain instant access to family, friends, and the Internet. They are living what is being called the “always-on lifestyle.”

They, and many of us, are walking around with our always-on smartphones or other portable computing devices which provide instant access to our social media circles, for example.

Always-on also provides the ability to obtain an instant answer to any question – at any time – by querying the Internet.

Are we, as a recent Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project study suggests, becoming overly absorbed into our technology?

Pew’s latest study released some new numbers.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are now being used by 76 percent of teens, and 77 percent of them also have a cell phone.

Of the young adults 18 to 29, Pew found 96 percent are using the Internet, 84 percent are using social networking sites, and 97 percent own a cell phone. Within this age group, 23 percent own mobile computing devices, such as an iPad.

Many of us are following other people’s user-generated content via online social media sites.

Pew discovered of the 225 million Twitter users, almost 20 million are following 60 or more other Twitter accounts.

More than 500 Twitter accounts are followed by about 2 million Twitter users.

More than 800 million people are now using Facebook, and collectively spend about 700 billion minutes each month on it.

Using Facebook also means uploading a lot of photos. Recently, I have been uploading pictures I have taken off of the Decorah (Iowa) Eagle Cam.

More than 100 billion photos were uploaded by Facebook users by the middle of 2011.

YouTube users are uploading 60 hours of video every minute.

In 2011, YouTube videos generated more than 1 trillion (yes, trillion) user playbacks.

I hear more people saying, “Just Google it,” when it comes to finding answers these days.

Is having instant information gratification possibly causing a lack of due diligence when a subject or an issue needs, not just a simple answer to a question, but an application of critical thinking and problem solving techniques?

While chatting online, I have seen the following done time and time again. Instead of texting one’s own words, someone will simply post a Wikipedia link in response to a topic that is being discussed.

It seems some people’s skillset includes the ability to quickly perform Internet searches.

Is this the future of critical thinking? I sure hope not.

Will the next user we find ourselves in an online chat room with end up being an auto-answering Wiki-bot?

Some people have expressed concern with online technology dependency.

“The short attention spans resulting from the quick interactions will be detrimental to focusing on the harder problems, and we will probably see a stagnation in many areas: technology, even social venues such as literature,” said Alvaro Retana, a technologist with Hewlett-Packard.

Looking at the positive side of integrating technology with our social and informational research is Susan Price, who is the organizer of this fall’s TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference in San Antonio, TX. Price says, “Those who bemoan the perceived decline in deep thinking or engagement, face-to-face social skills, and dependency on technology fail to appreciate the need to evolve our processes and behaviors to suit the new reality and opportunities.”

Jeff Jarvis, an author, journalist, and speaker says, “I do not believe technology will change our brains and how we are wired. But it can change how we cognate and navigate our world.”

I feel we should, however, guard ourselves from becoming overly-dependent upon any computing device – let’s not allow our cognitive brain to lapse into a false sense of security.

I also believe, at times, it wouldn’t hurt to validate information obtained thru the Internet by using a bit of common sense and old-fashioned fact-checking.

A person I once worked with had a saying, “Consider the source.”

Of course, the Internet will continue to play an important part of our brains ongoing learning, communication, entertainment, social, and always-on technological lifestyle.

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.
- Mark Ollig

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gorilla Glass: The King Kong of display screens

March 26, 2012
by Mark Ollig

For a long time no one knew for sure what type of glass was used on the very first iPhone.

It was recently confirmed, via Steve Jobs biography, that he was, shall we say, “not happy” with the preliminary plastic display screen which was to be used on the first iPhone.

While the first iPhone was being tested in 2006, Apple CEO Steve Jobs discovered its plastic display screen was highly vulnerable to surface scratches.

Jobs decided he wanted a stronger and more scratch-resistant glass material to be used for the iPhone display screen.

He learned of a special process for making strength-hardened glass that had been developed in the 1960s, while talking with Wendell Weeks, CEO of Corning Incorporated.

Weeks told Jobs about Corning’s Project Muscle initiative and the special chemically strengthened glass they had developed and experimented with in 1960 – but later abandoned.

The special glass Corning had in development is said to have been called Gorilla Glass.

Jobs managed to convince the Corning CEO to start producing this special glass so it could be used for Apple’s upcoming new iPhone.

According to Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs biography, Jobs told Corning’s CEO that within six months, he would need enough of the glass for a million iPhones.

Fortunately for Apple, Corning was able to quickly re-tool and produce enough of the special glass from their Kentucky plant, which was making LCD screens.

This special Corning glass was used on the display screens of the first generation of iPhone’s made available to the public in June 2007.

Coincidently, the following year, Corning publically presented Gorilla Glass as a scratch-resistant protective cover to be used in mobile handheld devices with touchscreens.

Many people believe Corning first made Gorilla Glass in the 1960s.

Officially, Corning states this belief is a popular myth; however, Corning does say it had begun experimenting with “chemically strengthened glass” in 1960, under the name Project Muscle.

In 1961, through the knowledge obtained from Project Muscle, Corning created a new damage-resistant glass they called Chemcor.

Chemcor glass ended up being used in common kitchen glassware items, cookware, automobiles, aircraft, and eye-glass lenses.

Gorilla Glass, according to Corning, is a different glass composition and was made after Chemcor.

From the sources I have found, it seems likely the process for making Gorilla Glass was first developed in the 1960s, but it was not manufactured then.

Today’s Corning Gorilla Glass is made using a special ion-exchange process.

This ion-exchange is a chemical strengthening process where large ions are “stuffed” into the glass surface, creating a state of compression.

Gorilla Glass is designed to take advantage of this type of ion-exchange processing.

The glass is first placed in a hot bath of molten salt at a temperature of approximately 752 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this temperature, the smaller sodium ions leave the glass, and are replaced with the larger potassium ions from the salt bath.

The larger ions use more physical space and are compressed when the glass cools off. This produces a layer of “compressive stress” on the surface of the glass.

The special composition of Gorilla Glass allows the potassium ions to be dispersed beneath the surface, creating a high compressive stress layer deep into the glass.

This compressed layer then creates a thin, lightweight surface glass that is resistant to scratches and normal day-to-day handling.

The compression layer acts like an “armored shield,” making the glass exceptionally tough and damage-resistant, thus the name Gorilla Glass.

In January, Corning announced (and demonstrated), their new Gorilla Glass 2 product at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The new glass is stronger than Gorilla Glass, and is about 20 percent thinner.

“Corning’s new glass composition, Gorilla Glass 2, enables slimmer and sleeker devices, brighter images, and greater touch sensitivity, providing an ideal solution for the newest, most sophisticated smartphones, tablets, and personal computers,” said David R. Velasquez, global director, marketing and commercial operations, for Corning Gorilla Glass.

Apple has not yet confirmed if the new iPad uses Gorilla Glass, or one of Corning’s other glass products.

However, it has been reported Apple’s iPhone glass display screens are being made in Corning factories located in Kentucky, and New York.

Oddly, Corning does not disclose on their website whether they provide glass for any of Apple’s products.

Corning does state that around 200 million smartphone screens were made of Gorilla Glass in 2011.

Gorilla Glass is made in the US, Japan, and Taiwan.

Corning glass is currently used by 30 major brands on more than 600 product models, and 600 million devices worldwide.

Corning’s Gorilla Glass sales are likely to reach $1 billion this year.

Several of the online blogs and discussion threads suggest Gorilla Glass 2 will be used for the surface touch screen on Apple’s next iPhone, most likely to be called the iPhone 5.

Since it is now officially spring, yours truly will soon commence cleaning the glass on his living room windows.

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.
- Mark Ollig

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My quest for a new computing device

March 19, 2012
by Mark Ollig

After much procrastinating, yours truly has decided the time has come to get a new computer.

My HP Pavilion laptop, running with Microsoft’s Windows XP, has served me fairly well over the last seven-plus years; however, lately I have been dealing with repeated annoying computer crashes.

The computer’s hard drive has already been replaced and the internal cooling fan is running a lot more these days, as it works to keep the computer components cool.

All the accumulated dust was removed from inside of the computer.

And yes, I do have the laptop sitting on one of those USB-powered fan cooling trays.

Performing a system restore, and using various utilities to check/optimize the hard disk and software program drivers, worked to no avail.

It was around 1983, when I first started using an IBM XT personal computer with PC-DOS.

In 1986, my next computer came with the new Microsoft Windows OS.

Since then, I simply concluded I would be a Microsoft Windows user forever.

It seems this conclusion was a bit premature on my part.

One reason for my decision to switch to a new operating system was after becoming disappointed (and somewhat confused) with what I had seen and read regarding the upcoming Microsoft Windows 8 “metro-tiles-pinning” operating system.

I have decided to skip Windows 8 for now and make the “giant leap” to Apple and their desktop OS X and mobile device iOS.

A few years ago, on my birthday, in their attempt to bring me into the world of 21st century computing, my kids gave me an Apple iPodtouch, which I still use today.

After talking with my oldest son, Mat Ollig (who today uses an Apple iMac and iPad), he suggested I make the switch to Apple.

“I originally got a MacBook because it was mandated by my college,” Mat said.

“Making the switch to Apple was hard at first. The interface was so well-designed, and I was so used to the arcane flow of Windows, that I hesitated in the beginning. But then, everything clicked. With Windows, I needed to install this, tweak that, and update everything manually. Once I realized that Apple worked tirelessly to understand and create an experience based on how people intuitively worked, I understood that I needed to stop thinking like a computer geek and more like a person. It made me realize that a computer could be more of a tool than a nuisance,” Mat told me.

Mat also talked about when he bought an iPad.

“I originally got the first iPad in concert with my first iMac, the idea being that I would have a powerful desktop that could run all my programs, and a small, portable device for showing off my artwork, sending email and surfing the Internet,” he said.

Mat concluded with “All in all, the combination of desktop and tablet make the most sense in the world. And with, iCloud backing up documents and calendars, it’s almost like taking your desktop with you.”

And with that, yours truly has decided (for now) to pull the curtains on Microsoft Windows.

With a bit of trepidation, I am going to get progressive and go with either the Apple iMac, or the Apple Mac mini, for my home computing.

While away from home, I will need a mobile computer.

Back in the day, having a mobile computer that was truly portable usually meant getting a new laptop, notebook, or even a netbook computer.

I needed to remind myself those mobile computers are being replaced with today’s more compact, mobile computing devices.

While talking with Mat, he told me flat out to forget laptops, saying he has never missed having a laptop since getting his new iPad.

And so, I’ve made the decision to go ahead and buy the new Apple iPad using the iOS 5.1 mobile operating system.

Last week I wrote about how remarkable the new iPad was; I think that column may have also persuaded me into buying one.

While on-the-go, some of the things I will be doing with my new iPad include: reading online newspapers, books, and magazines; reading and sending emails, interacting with my blog and social media sites, doing research, taking and uploading pictures and video; possibly playing Angry Birds, and of course, working on this column.

Being I will be typing a lot of text using the iPad, I will buy Apple’s wireless keyboard instead of tapping my fingers on the iPad’s flat keyboard display screen.

As many of you know, I prefer the tactile feel and physical feedback provided by a QWERTY keyboard.

The new iPad’s 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution within a 9.7-inch Retina display screen will be much easier on one’s eyes when reading and typing text, which yours truly will very much appreciate.

Hopefully soon, I will find myself comfortably seated at a table in the local coffee shop with my new iPad and a freshly brewed cup of coffee, happily typing away on next week’s edition of Bits & Bytes from a wireless keyboard.
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. - Mark Ollig

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The new iPad delivers impressive bells and whistles

March 12, 2012
by Mark Ollig

Just before Apple’s presentation began last Wednesday, I briefly imagined a smiling Steve Jobs walking out onto the stage, wearing his characteristic blue jeans and celebrated black turtleneck shirt, triumphantly holding in his left hand Apple’s newest iPad.

His presence was noticeably missed last week.

Apple’s new iPad announcement was made at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco.

This is the same location where Apple unveiled the original iPad and iPad 2.

It has been almost two years (April 3, 2010), since the first Apple iPad was released to the public.

The iPad 2 came out on March 11, 2011.

Days before last week’s official announcement, new iPad name rumors were being bandied about on Twitter, tech blogs, and social networking sites.

Folks were suggesting the new iPad would be called the iPad 3 or iPad HD.

None of these guesses were right.

Apple is simply calling it “The new iPad.”

Last Wednesday, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, took the stage and began his presentation about this latest iPad computing device.

One major improvement in the new iPad is the use of Retina display technology, which Apple originally introduced on the iPhone 4.

The Retina display provides an amazingly crisp and clear resolution of the icons, text, video, photos, paintings, and graphics on the display screen of the new iPad.

The new iPad 9.7-inch LED-back-lit glossy widescreen Multi-Touch display has an incredible 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution. It uses IPS (in-plane switching) technology, which provides quick response times, and better viewing angles.

There are 264 pixels per inch in the new iPad display screen.

This amounts to a remarkable 3.1 million total pixels on the new iPad display screen – which is the most of any mobile device out there.

This improved resolution amounts to having four times as many pixels as on the iPad 2, which means a dramatic improvement will be seen when reading printed text. The text fonts will be much easier on the eyes, and the clarity and sharpness of the text will look as if one was reading it from a newspaper or magazine.

There will be noticeable improvements when watching movies, surfing the Web, reading emails, and looking at photographs using the new iPad versus the iPad 2.

“When you hold this [the new iPad] at a normal distance, in this case 15 inches or even closer, your retina in your eye cannot discern those individual pixels,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of product marketing.

Inside the new iPad is Apple’s powerful dual-core A5X custom-designed chip with quad-core graphics, which was specifically designed to assist in operating the Retina display and video stabilization.

Improved features of this new iPad include an iSight camera with 5-megapixel backside illuminated sensor, 5-element lens, autofocus, auto exposure, autoface detection, and a tap-to-focus optical system.

There is also advanced optics using an IR (Infrared) filter.

The new iPad will record video in HD (High Definition) 1080p resolution using video stabilization.

Apple’s FaceTime camera used for video calling is built-into the new iPad.

The new iPad will operate over Wi-Fi, and AT&T and Verizon 4G LTE networks.

Apple’s new iPad can also be used as a personal Internet- sharing “hotspot” providing Wi-Fi networking for up to five other computing devices.

The one feature that is not included on the new iPad (which I was hoping would be) is the intelligent, digital personal assistant called Siri – currently used on the iPhone 4S.

I look for Siri to be available in next year’s iPad model.

The new iPad does have voice dictation which performs speech to text conversion for note taking and email.

Over 112 million Americans – one-third of the US population – will own a computing tablet by 2016, according to a new Forrester Research report.

Apple, of course, dominates the current “tablet wars” with its iPod and iPad computing devices.

During the Apple presentation, Tim Cook repeatedly mentioned how we are living in a post-PC world, saying “Apple has its feet firmly planted in the post-PC future.”

Post-PC tablet devices such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad are, in fact, beginning to replace traditionally-used mobile laptop computing devices.

In 2011, Apple sold 172 million post-PC devices, which represented 76 percent of Apple’s revenues for last year.

Not only does Apple dominate computing hardware sales with its tablet devices, it just went over 25 billion in downloaded user software apps.

Right now the computing tablet business is hot, and computing devices like the iPad will continue in its popularity and will become commonly used for entertainment, education, and as one of our personal and business “computing tools.”

Cook stated there were over 100 competing computing tablets introduced into the market in 2011.

Apple’s new iPad models are priced at $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB.

A quote written in a Jan. 28 column by Tony Bradley of PC World was displayed on the large screen used during the Apple presentation. It said, “The iPad is so ubiquitous, and so entwined in mainstream culture already, that it is hard to imagine a time without it.”

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.
- Mark Ollig

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Barcelona hosts 2012 Mobile World Congress

March 5, 2012
by Mark Ollig

Announced as a “world-class thought leadership conference” this year’s annual mobile wireless event is once again making news.

The 2012 GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communication Association) MWC (Mobile World Congress) event took place last week in Barcelona, Spain.

Over 60,000 people from 200 countries attended this event.

Attendees learned about the next generation of mobile technological breakthroughs, the latest wireless mobile apps (program application software), and new social media integrations.

Some of the companies which gave keynote addresses included Google, Nokia, Electronic Arts, and eBay.

Prince Felipe de Bourbon of Spain also spoke at the event.

About 3,000 CEOs and company presidents attended, including those from AT&T Mobility, Vodafone, Ford Motor Company, and China Mobile.

More than 1,400 companies were in Barcelona showcasing their new mobile devices, technology, and accessories.

A recent study released by GSMA said there will be 24 billion mobile phones and smart devices being used worldwide by 2020.

“Today, the connected devices market is dominated by mobile phones, but this will change in the future as a new wave of smartphones, tablets, consumer electronics, and M2M [Machine-to-Machine] devices connect everything from cars to health services and even entire cities,” said Michael O’Hara, chief marketing officer of GSMA.

The GSMA predicts, by 2020, the use of mobile devices world-wide will generate $4.5 trillion in revenue streams.

GSMA also believes, by 2020, it will have become routine to have cars and vehicles regularly sending and receiving information from various computing cloud platforms using wireless mobile technology.

Many of us already use wireless mobile applications in our cars, such as a GPS (Global Positioning System) for trip navigation.

“We also see the car as a modern and very capable mobile end device, on which our applications can be used,” said Marc Bechler, who is the expert in charge of BMW’s Micropauses car software applications division.

Yours truly looks forward to the day when I can have the performance and major systems of my car routinely checked (as I drive), using a wireless mobile remote diagnostics app from my local car dealer.

Soon, we will be able to program our cars for wireless mobile access to numerous applications and programs from the cloud, where, of course the “intelligence” resides.

Various cloud-computing platforms will process, update, store, and communicate wirelessly with our automobile’s built-in mobile program applications.

Although we do not have a futuristic Jetsons’ car, we can fly through the clouds; we can have a car on the ground communicating with the clouds.

“Oh, the irony of it all!” exclaims your brought-down-to earth columnist.

By 2020, it is estimated the cloud-connected car will have access to many new mobile-to-cloud connecting service applications; these new revenues alone are projected to be $600 billion.

“The mobile communications industry is creating a ‘Connected Economy’ across the globe, through network investment, job creation, and contributions to public funding,” said Anne Bouverot, director general, GSMA.

GSMA stated that during 2011, global wireless mobile industry revenues were $1.5 trillion.

They predict by 2015, these revenues will grow to almost $2 trillion.

This increase in mobile-related revenues will be supporting an estimated 10 million mobile industry jobs.

During the MWC event, the winners of the 2012 Global Mobile Awards were announced.

Google was chosen as the Best Consumer Mobile Service winner for Google Maps for Android.

Ford Motor Company won the Best Mobile Innovation for Automotive award for their Ford SYNC with Emergency Assistance.

Best Smartphone was awarded to Samsung, for their Samsung Galaxy S II.

The Angry Birds Rio game was the winner of the Best Mobile App for Consumers award.

To no one’s surprise, Apple won Best Mobile Tablet for their iPad 2.

Today’s mobile devices are being used for many other things besides voice calls. It is truly incredible when one thinks about it.

We can read books, magazines, and newspapers using mobile devices.

People are using mobile devices for online learning.

Mobile devices inform us with news and entertain us with games.

We watch movies, sports, and network television on them.

Mobile devices take our pictures and video, which we wirelessly upload to online servers such as Flickr and YouTube. From these online hosts, they are made available to be seen and shared with friends, family, and others throughout the world.

Our mobile devices keep us connected with our family, friends, and the people we do business with via voice, email, texting, instant messaging, and social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype.

We create documents using our mobile devices, and upload them to places like WordPress, Blogger, and Google Docs.

We can do online banking using a mobile device app.

Individuals and businesses are using apps on their mobile devices for making and receiving credit card payments.

Mobile telemedicine technology provides real-time monitoring and uploading of patients’ vital signs.

The use of mobile devices worldwide as a political and social reporting tool is now commonplace.

Today’s sleek, lightweight, and powerful wireless mobile devices certainly have come a long way since the original hand-held mobile phone, or “brick,” we talked to each other on back in the day.

The GSMA Mobile World Congress website is at
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.
- Mark Ollig