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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

GPS system saves time and frustration

by Mark Ollig
“Do you want the portable GPS system added?” asked the person across the counter from the Avis Car Rental.

With a bit of hesitation, I said, “Yes.”

Why the hesitation? Well, here’s the scoop: This tech writer has never used a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system before.

The Avis representative then handed me a small case with the GPS receiving device inside.

I proceeded to my rental car – which provided me with another “first.”

Looking closely at the steering wheel column and dashboard, I exclaimed, “Where do I put the key in?”

There was no ignition key slot.

I glanced down at the keychain the Avis representative gave to me and realized there was no car key on it.

This car used the futuristic Jetson’s “push-to-start” button.

After yours truly figured out how to start the car, he removed the Garmin GPS device from its case and plugged it into the car cigarette lighter socket, where it booted up to become functional.

“Enter a destination,” said the GPS internal speaker.

Yes, the thing talks.

This particular GPS device accepts typing in an address via its touch-sensitive screen. 

A user can also select an icon from the Garmin GPS menu for finding the nearest restaurant, gas station, or in my situation; lodging. 

After verifying the address of my hotel destination, the highway route I would be traveling was displayed on the Garmin GPS screen.

Then, in HAL-like fashion, the GPS instructed me to buckle my seatbelt.

While driving, the GPS would audibly inform me when to make turns, which lane I should be in, and the distance to my destination.

I followed its verbal directions and watched the screen displaying the small blue arrow (my car) traveling along the projected highway route.

“This is much better than trying to follow a roadmap, or stopping for directions,” I thought to myself. 

The GPS informed me to turn left. I had arrived at the Embassy Suites with no frustrations, and, by following the GPS route instructions, I saved time.

Most of us already know the GPS system had its beginnings with the military, and that the GPS receiving units on earth are in contact with orbiting satellites.

I was reading a paper off of the University of Florida website which provided me with some background on the US GPS system.

The launch of the Soviets Sputnik I, in 1957, may have inspired the first use of a satellite for location navigation.

During this time, researchers at John Hopkins Applied Physics in Baltimore reasoned since they knew their exact location on the earth, they could determine the exact location of the Sputnik satellite by measuring the radio frequency shifts that Sputnik transmitted towards the earth as it approached and moved away from their location.

This discovery led to the conclusion that one could determine their position on the earth as long as one knew the precise position of an orbiting satellite.

During the 1960s, the US military secretly worked on and tested various satellite navigation systems.

To make a GPS system a reality, improvements were made, not only in existing materials, electronics, and technology, but in the development of atomic clocks – as accurate time-keeping is critical because the GPS system is dependent upon the signals from the receivers on the ground, to the earth-orbiting satellites in order to establish location.

Each satellite has its own atomic clock.

In 1973, an estimated 24 Navigation System using Timing And Ranging (NAVSTAR) satellites were planned to provide latitude, longitude, altitude, direction of travel, travel velocity, and correct time of day.

In 1978, the first NAVSTAR satellite was launched into earth orbit at an altitude of 12,625 miles.

NAVSTAR is a project of the US Defense Department. Its Control Center is at the US Air Force Space Command, Falcon Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, CO.

The NAVSTAR GPS system consists of three segments: space, control, and user.

Space, of course, is where the NAVSTAR earth-orbiting satellites are located.

Five satellite monitoring stations on earth make up the control segment. They are located in Hawaii, Kwajalein, Ascension Island, Diego Garcia, and Colorado Springs.

Three ground antennas are located at Ascension Island, Diego Garcia, and Kwajalein.

There is a Master Control Station (MCS) in Colorado, located at the Schriever Air Force Base.

The user segment includes the GPS receiving devices antennas and processors, which provides the end users with positioning, precise timing, and velocity information.

The newest GPS satellite to be launched into orbit is called the NAVSTAR 66; it was launched July 16, 2011.

This satellite replaces the 20-year-old NAVSTAR GPS 2A-11, which was launched from Cape Canaveral atop a Delta 2 rocket July 3, 1991.

Of the total NAVSTAR satellites, three are operating as “working spares.”

Using NAVSTAR, any location on Earth is viewable by the orbiting satellites at all times, so driving directions and user locations are computed instantaneously.

The NAVSTAR GPS service is available to anyone anywhere, day or night, and provides service in all weather conditions.
Any of the NAVSTAR satellites (and most other earth-orbiting satellites) can be tracked in real-time at:

After successfully using the GPS to find my way around southern Florida, I realized how indispensable a GPS is. So, yours truly has decided to get a GPS receiver either as an app on my Android mobile device, or, as a portable device I can keep in the car.

I will probably end up recycling my paper highway roadmaps – if I can find them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Kasparov plays historical chess program

by Mark Ollig

During WWII, the analytical mind of Alan Turing broke the secret coding method of the German cipher, or crypto machine.

It was better known as an Enigma machine.

Turing, along with Gordon Welchman, created the Turing Bombe machine, which could decipher the German Enigma code.

Turing’s machine is credited with assisting in bringing the war to an end.

Vinton Cerf, who celebrates his birthday the same date as Alan Turing (June 23), is well- known as one of the “fathers of the Internet,” based on his work with TCP/IP (Traffic Control Protocol/Internet Protocol).

TCP/IP are actually two separate protocols (TCP and IP), out of a collection of data communication protocols used for sending information through the Internet.

This past June, Cerf spoke during the Alan Turing Centenary Conference in Manchester.

Alan Turing would have turned 100 years old June 23, 2012.

Turing is considered the father of modern computing in many circles, and so it seemed to be only fitting to have the modern father of the Internet speak about him.

Cerf told those attending the conference about Turing’s curiosity with artificial intelligence, computing hardware and software.,

The first computer Cerf programmed was called a Bendix G-15, which was a computer that was introduced in 1956.

The connection to Turing is that the Bendix G-15 was based on Turing’s ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) design he completed in 1945.

“Turing had the ability to turn anything into a useful application,” commented Cerf.

In 1948, at age 35, Turing wrote a paper titled “Intelligent Machinery.”

Turing described in this paper about creating a “thinking machine” by building what was essentially a robot that would mimic a human and “roam the countryside” to learn about things for itself. He was describing how to design artificial intelligence in a machine that could learn from its own experiences.

Just two years later, Turing released a more detailed paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”

In this paper, Turing continued to build upon his 1948 paper, and proposed a simple question: “Can machines think?”

Turing stated this idea had gained interest because of the development of a particular kind of machine, called an “electronic computer” or “digital computer.”

He went on to give examples of deductive reasoning from which a machine could come to logical conclusions.

While Turing is famous for breaking the Enigma code and his work with computing design, what he might not be as well known for was creating a computational algorithm for chess during the late 1940s.

It amazes me how Turing, in 1948, could write a chess-playing algorithm – which I will call a program – at a time when the type of computer required to fully execute this program -- did not yet exist.

Turing’s chess program could “think” two moves in advance, using the method of logical “searching decision trees” for making the “best” move.

The computer chess program Turing created could even be considered a computational artificial intelligence program.

During the celebration of Turing’s 100th birthday last month, chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov sat down and played against Turing’s 1948 computer chess program, which was loaded into a modern-day computer.

As this columnist enjoys a good game of chess every now and then, I was very interested in how Turing’s 1948 chess computations would fare in a match against a great chess master like Kasparov.

In watching the video, it seemed to me Kasparov was almost eager to play the program, as he quickly sat down at the table to begin.

A large screen displayed to the audience the chess game moves as they occurred in real-time.

“Turochamp,” Turing’s chess program, played the white chess pieces.

Turing’s program began the match with Kasparov by using the Queen’s pawn, or e3 chess opening.

During the course of the game, Kasparov swiftly moved his chess pieces in a precise, calculating manner. He took only seconds in-between moves and methodically took control of the chess game.

“I’m sorry!” Kasparov smilingly said while capturing the white chess pieces.

He then quickly closed in for the win.

Kasparov was able to checkmate white’s king in only 16 moves.

We must remember Kasparov is a chess grandmaster, and is known for playing chess 10 moves in advance.

After the game, Kasparov complimented Turing’s chess program saying, “It was a start . . . it was something that definitely changed our lives.”

“Although it’s only thinking two moves ahead, I thought it would give the amateur player some serious problems,” he added.

“It was an outstanding accomplishment,” Kasparov went on to say of Turing’s chess program.

Alan Mathison Turing died June 7, 1954, at age 41.

To watch the video of Kasparov competing against Turing’s 1948 chess program, go to

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Florida High Tech Corridor Council initiative

July 16, 2012
by Mark Ollig
This week, your humble columnist is on assignment in Florida, so I thought it would be interesting to investigate Florida’s technology scene.

The Florida High Tech Corridor Council (FHTCC) is where I ended my search.

The FHTCC is where business and higher education are working together.

One of the reasons stated on its website for starting the FHTCC “is to grow high tech industry and innovation in the region through research, workforce, and marketing partnerships.”

“The FHTCC came about in the mid-1990s, as an effort to save a $1.4 billion, 1,500 job expansion from going off-shore,” said Randy Berridge, president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.

Berridge went on to say the FHTCC has grown into supporting 400 companies, and 1,200 projects engaging 2,400 students working side-by-side with Florida universities.

According to Berridge, the FHTCC has invested $56 million into various Florida corridor projects. The return to the state, the companies, and the universities has been over $1 billion dollars. “That’s a pretty good partnership,” said Berridge.

The FHTCC is, according to its website, “a regional economic development initiative of the University of Central Florida (UCF), the University of South Florida (USF), and the University of Florida (UF).”

Encompassing 23 counties across Florida’s mid-section, one of the FHTCC’s fastest -growing technology sectors covers computer modeling, simulation, and training.

The simulated situations students participate in create real emotions, real interaction, and real learning.

The FHTCC STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics program) called techPath, is a focused educational curriculum. It was established to help students explore future science technologies and science-driven careers.

One of techPath’s online videos explained some of the amazing things being accomplished using a combination of computer software and hydraulics.

The simulated technicians, or “simtechs” as they are called in the video, are working on the cutting-edge of technology, as they create real-life working simulations students can use to learn, and gain experience from.

One member in the FHTCC is the Raydon Corporation.

Raydon is located in Port Orange FL. The company develops simulation training products.

“I get to work with software, hardware, engineering . . . all different types of fields,” said Ron Knighton, who is a simtech and works at Raydon. 

In one example, a realistic human-like plastic patient simulator, composed of computer circuitry, was used for training nursing students.

This realistic-looking, plastic patient is a combination of a high-speed computer, intelligent software, pneumatics, hydraulics, and electronics.

Medical Education Technologies, Inc. (METI) located in the Florida high tech corridor, manufacturers and maintains these plastic, human patient simulators.

The human patient simulator is being used to train nursing students to save lives.

“It’s unbelievable. You have the heart sounds, the chest is rising . . . it talks, and the eyes works” said Jim Grimm, a student who worked with the patient simulator.
“You could actually see what you’ve been reading . . . it was cool!” commented Nadia Hayes, another student.

“It’s like the first encounter of a real person,” said student Mary Montgomery.

“One of the greatest challenges is just making it as close to a human being as possible,” said METI field service technician, Eric Carrasquillo.

“We have to make sure these simulators are capable of fooling a clinician into believing that what they are actually practicing is real,” said Tom Bloomfield, METI manager of Production/Test.

There are also many community colleges located within the Florida high tech corridor, including the Daytona Beach Community College (DBCC).

“You can incorporate many lessons on biology, mathematics, physics, computer sciences . . . all by demonstrating facets of this in the simulator,” said J.S. Gravenstein, M.D., at McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida, where the human patient simulator was originally developed.

Steve Burley, Director of Economic Development at D.B.C.C. said, “With the help of our industry partners, we have developed a two-year program for simulation maintenance technicians. There are plenty of jobs . . . our graduates have their choice of several jobs, and the pay is outstanding.”

Some of the students who graduated from the DBCC. were quoted on techPath’s online video as saying they had received various computing degrees.

The techPath’s motto is “Cultivating tomorrow’s workforce.”

“So what will the future hold? Whatever it is, we’re ready,” states the message at the end of a techPath video.

Florida is definitely as active a participant in the high-tech industry as any high-tech company out in California’s famous Silicon Valley.

You can follow the FHTCC at “FloridaHighTech” on Twitter.

Its website is located at:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I finally have a MacBook computer

July 9, 2012

by Mark Ollig

This humble writer is blissfully typing away on the column you are now reading using his new Apple MacBook.

Last week, I bravely walked into what I used to consider “enemy territory”– an Apple computer store.

The mountain of Apple computer products I was surrounded by surprised me at first glance; however, this Windows personal computer user was resolute in his decision to make the switch and go with an Apple computer.

I was somewhat hesitant about which one to choose. Fortunately for me, I was accompanied to the store with a longtime Apple computer user – my son, Mathew.

Mathew reassured me about my decision to go with an Apple computer; he made me feel confident I would end up choosing the right Apple computer to start out with.

Being this was my first Apple computer, I felt it would be best to not get the most expensive model right away; so for now, I chose to buy a less expensive MacBook.

Even the Apple salesperson seemed to understand my initial hesitation.

“I have been using the Microsoft Windows operating system on personal computers since 1986, so this will be a bit of a change for me,” I sheepishly said to the smiling, young salesperson.

He acknowledged this and walked with me over to the decorative wall shelves displaying numerous MacBook computers.

There must have been about 30 MacBook’s on display. All of them were neatly arranged, with each of their dazzling white cases imprinted with the famous Apple logo.

I decided to start with an entry-level MacBook. Unlike the rest of the Apple line of devices (which sport aluminum unibodies), this computer has a white polycarbonate case.

Mathew assured me that despite it being an entry-level computer, it was vastly more powerful than my current laptop, and was the best value for the money.

While Mathew was explaining all this to me, I noticed the salesperson smiling, and nodding his head in approval.

I wanted to know what was inside this shiny white box, so I asked the salesperson, who politely told me.

This particular MacBook uses Apple’s OS X (Operating System 10, version 10.6.8). It includes two, dual-core Intel processors operating at 2.1GHz. The computer’s bus speed is 800 MHz. This MacBook also includes a 160 GB hard drive.

I felt this was the right Apple computer for me, so we took the MacBook to the counter and made the purchase.

Later that day, Mathew and I decided it would be a good idea to increase the computer’s random access memory from 2GB to 4GB.

We went to another computer hardware store and purchased two, 2GB DDR2 SDRAM (double data rate synchronous dynamic random access memory) interface chips. These DDR2 chips are rated at 667 MHz.

The DDR2 allows for a higher bus speed, and uses less power.

If you ever need to replace computer chips in a MacBook, be sure to have the correct-sized Phillips screwdriver. I was fortunate to have had a small, eyeglass screwdriver with me, which, luckily, fitted the tiny screws inside the MacBook.

We installed the two computer chip components into their respective slots with no problems.

The next day, I started using the MacBook in earnest – by writing this column.

I soon realized I was going to need a mouse, as I just could not get used to the MacBook finger track pad; which reminded me of the late 1990s IBM ThinkPad 390E notebook computer I once had.

So, I went out and purchased a blue, Logitech m317 wireless mouse with a nano-receiver connector, which I simply plugged into one of the MacBook’s USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports.

The new hardware worked perfectly, as I was able to maneuver easily among the many Apple applications using the wireless mouse.

Even the MacBook’s full-size keyboard was simpler to use than I previously thought it would be.

My typing speed and accuracy has steadily improved since I began working on this column.

Another thing I learned about the MacBook is its ability to be used as an 802.11 Wi-Fi source.

At home, I have the MacBook connected to my ISP (Internet Service Provider) via an Ethernet connection to my cable modem.

Mathew showed me how to set up the MacBook so my Android mobile device and iPod can wirelessly access the Internet through my MacBook computer.

It works great. Just remember, when you set up a Wi-Fi hotspot, make sure you put the proper security on it so no one else can use it without your knowledge.

The Wi-Fi security protocol I use is WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), along with a strong password.

So far, I very much like this new Apple MacBook computer.

As I learn my way around this MacBook, and become comfortable using the Apple OS, I will no doubt end up wanting to buy the latest MacBook Pro model.

And so, yours truly is successfully migrating from using the Microsoft Windows XP OS, to the Apple OS X.

Welcome to the world of Apple computing, Mark.