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Friday, September 28, 2012

Storing information for millions of years

by Mark Ollig        

Looking out the bay window to the left of my writing desk, I am seeing signs of autumn; the nearby trees bordering the street are showing off their vibrant fall colors of red, gold, and yellow leaves.

I also noticed the glass on the window needs to be cleaned.

In this week’s column, we will discover another use for glass, besides its being fashioned as a window to look through.

“The volume of data being created every day is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven’t necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones,” said Hitachi researcher Kazuyoshi Torii.

Glass, specifically quartz glass, has been successfully tested as a data-storage medium having the capacity to preserve the information placed inside of it almost indefinitely, without any degradation.

Technology developed by Hitachi of Japan, used a laser beam to generate digital data (binary formatted data) as dot etchings positioned inside a very thin piece of quartz glass.

This quartz glass-plate storage medium measures just two centimeters (0.8 inches) square and only two millimeters (0.08 inches) thick. It can contain four separate layers of dot etchings.

Each glass square can hold 40 megabytes worth of binary data per square inch.

The binary data stored inside the square of quartz glass was read using special data-reading software, along with an optical microscope connected to a display monitor.

The quartz glass is also highly resistant to heat and water.

The permanency of the quartz glass was tested, and it was determined it would last, according to Hitachi, for “hundreds of millions of years.”

Hitachi reported quartz glass-plate samples withstood two hours of exposure to 1,832 Fahrenheit degree heat in an accelerated aging test.

Hitachi concluded the data stored using the quartz glass would be readable for 100 million years.

While we have developed cutting-edge technologies for storing data as binary information on a variety of long-lasting materials, it is yet to be confirmed the data stored will be fully retrievable in 1,000 years, or 1 million years . . . let alone 100 million years.

Hitachi researchers believe if data is stored in a simple binary format (dots) inside the quartz glass; future civilizations should be able to read the information with an optical microscope.

To be fair to my readers, Hitachi did not disclose if they foresee optical microscopes needed to read the data would still be obtainable in the year 100002012.

According to Hitachi, quartz glass-plate technology would be a preferred method for storing “historically important items such as cultural artifacts and public documents, as well as data that individuals want to leave for posterity.”

“Initially this will be aimed at companies that have large amounts of important data to preserve, rather than individuals,” said Tomiko Kinoshita, a spokeswoman at Hitachi’s main research lab.

Just imagine . . . yours truly could store all of his treasured Bits & Bytes columns inside a small square of quartz glass – where they could still be readable in 100 million years.

This is epic. Bits & Bytes may possibly realize a future civilization of faithful readers.

Sadly, I have read a few predictions of Earth’s fate 100 million years from now, and folks, I admit, it doesn’t look very promising.

One future timeline says Earth will have been impacted by a meteorite the size of what hit us 65.5 million years ago and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

If there is still intelligence inhabiting this planet 100 million years from now, they would most likely have in place some type of artificial protection screen surrounding the Earth. Possibly a global force field would have been designed to deflect large asteroids and meteorites away from this planet.

Speaking of storing messages in the hopes of them being retrievable in the distant future, I am reminded of when NASA launched two Voyager probes into space in 1977.

The late Carl Sagan advised NASA to include a message from Earth – in case an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization would come into possession of one of the Voyager probes.

Each Voyager contains duplicate messages: a variety of sounds, greetings spoken in many languages, and 115 images of life on Earth.

The information is etched onto a 12-inch phonographic, gold-plated copper disk (golden record), and one is attached to each Voyager probe.

Included with each golden record are the stylus and cartridge needed to play them.

A drawing on each golden record shows whatever intelligence finds it, how to retrieve the information carved onto its surface.

Each golden record is essentially a “message in a bottle” humans from Earth have tossed out into the ocean of space, with the hope that one day they will be found, and their messages seen, heard, and understood.

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, we can expect to see Hitachi’s new quartz glass storage technology being brought into the marketplace by 2015.

So, let’s stay focused . . . as we look out the window towards the future of quartz glass storage.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Next-generation wireless will be called 'WiGig'

by Mark Ollig
Coffee shops with signs offering “Free WiFi” bring us through the door so we can enjoy sipping our favorite brew – a large dark-roast (with cream) for yours truly – while wirelessly accessing the Internet using our laptops and mobile devices.

As we know, nothing stays the same in this world, especially when it comes to technology.

Soon, we may be seeing those coffee shop signs offering us “Free WiGig.” 

Wireless Gigabit or WiGig, is the next wireless technology standard we may be tethering to when accessing the Internet from our mobile computing devices.

WiGig has been under development since 2009, and in addition to being used to complement WiFi; it will free us from the various cables used when connecting computing hardware. 

“In the future, if it computes, it connects. From the simplest embedded sensors to the most advanced cloud data centers, we’re looking at techniques to allow all of them to connect without wires,” said Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner at this year’s Intel Developer Forum.

And WiGig will be able to handle the job. 

With data transmission speeds reported at a lighting fast 7 to 10 gigabits per second, WiGig will be around 10 times faster than today’s fastest wireless 802.11n network based Wi-Fi systems. 

One of the reasons WiGig is so much faster is because it operates in a different frequency bandwidth range. 

Current WiFi networks use the 2.4 GHz (gigahertz) and 5 GHz radio frequency bands. 

The 2.4 GHz range is used by most of our laptops and mobile devices when accessing the Internet. This range works well over a greater distance than the 5GHz bands, which is primarily used for our electronic Bluetooth devices that only need to operate over short distances. 

When talking about WiGig, the amount of wireless spectrum and speed that becomes available when compared to WiFi opens up tremendously – we are talking WiGig wireless transmissions operating in the unlicensed 60 GHz frequency band. 

When used with Protocol Adaptation Layers (PAL), WiGig becomes functional for our personal computing and mobile applications.

In the near future, we may be using WiGig technology, instead of physical cords and cables for connections to our monitor display screens, keyboards, computing devices, and external hardware.

During this year’s Intel Developers Forum, Wireless Gigabit Alliance chairman Ali Sadri joined Rattner on stage to demonstrate how an Intel Ultrabook computer could wirelessly sync at high speeds to devices, such as docking stations, keyboards, monitors, and external network drives.

While watching a video of the demonstration, their first presentation didn’t work; not because the technology failed, but because the Ultrabook computer’s battery was drained from having been used the previous day and had not been re-charged.

This did cause a bit of embarrassment to the presenters.

Once the Ultrabook had a fully-charged battery installed, the demonstration went on without any problems. 

The demo showed how video (it could just as well have been any type of data) was transmitted wirelessly from a Vantec external hard drive sitting on the table, through the Ultrabook, and then wirelessly streamed from the Ultrabook to a pair of display monitors – with no inter-cabling of the devices used. 

As I look at the cables currently cluttering my desk from my two display monitors, I think about the day when I will be able to get rid of them – it will be a welcomed change. 

The Wireless Gigabit Alliance is an organization which oversees and addresses the need for faster wireless connectivity between computing, communications, and entertainment devices.

“Our mission is to establish a global ecosystem of high-speed and easy-to-use wireless devices that work together seamlessly to connect people in the digital age. WiGig technology enables multi-gigabit wireless communications among consumer electronics, handheld devices and PCs,” states their website. 

WiGig technology is scheduled to be demonstrated at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

By the end of 2013, we should begin seeing WiGig 60 GHz products designed for use with our notebooks and laptops, mobile computing devices, digital cameras, TV set-top boxes, and more.

These new WiGig products will be designed to be compatible with today’s existing 802.11 Wi-Fi devices, so in the event the 60 GHz high-speed signal is unmaintainable, a connection to the lower speed 802.11 Wi-Fi network will be used. 

“Looking to the future, all computing will become wireless computing, with an ever-increasing demand for faster wireless communication,” said Rattner.

According to many folks in the computing industry, WiGig looks like the next wireless road to be traveled upon. 

To watch the Intel demonstration video, go to  

For further information about the Wireless Gigabit Alliance, visit, or follow them @WiGigAlliance on Twitter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Web Index 2012 rankings released by its founder

by Mark Ollig
Tim Berners-Lee is the director of the World Wide Web Foundation.

Berners-Lee is, of course, most famous for being the person who invented the hyper-linking program, which became the World Wide Web.

His program consists of the set of rules which allows us to connect and interact with content available on the Internet via our web browsers. 

Since its creation in 1989, the Web has evolved greatly from being just an informational content source.

Today, we use the Web as a social networking venue for keeping in touch with family and friends, and for communicating with others about local, state, country, and global issues.

Using the Web, we obtain government resources and information, conduct business, learn new skills, and so much more. 

The World Wide Web Foundation recently released a report showing the rankings of the countries which are best utilizing the Web. 

Multi-country questionnaires used to obtain the primary data were scored by experts and professionals in a number of fields from each country. These scores were then checked and verified by the peers and regional reviewers for each country. 

The country Web index rankings were also compiled using several existing sources, along with specific information obtained from 2007 to 2011 from 61 countries. This information was then combined, creating a composite index score.

Although many sources were used for the final ranking scores, the overall Web Index comes from the scores computed within three sub-indexes:

• communications and institutional infrastructure sores;
• Web content and Web use scores; and
• political, economic, and social impact scores.

The final index rankings represent the countries which have progressed faster and more effectively in harnessing and developing the Web as the facilitator and means of increasing growth in these sub-indexes.

The World Wide Web Foundation says they hope this Web Index “will help deepen and broaden our understanding of the impact of this most powerful tool [the Web] on humanity.”

Berners-Lee says he hopes the Web Index will be used to inquire further into issues such as government openness and censorship. 

He also anticipates additional countries and indexes will be included in future Web Index releases.

The Web contains more than 1-trillion public pages and more than 3.4 billion users, according to the World Wide Web Foundation.

At the top of this year’s Web Index ranking is Sweden, with a Web Index score of 100.

Sweden had high marks over the three sub-indexes; scoring first for political, second for social, and third for economic impact. 

According to the report’s data, 91 percent of Sweden’s population is using the Web. 

The US ranked second on the list with a Web Index score of 97.31

One reason the US came in second was because of its lower communications infrastructure score. 

The US also ranked lower than Sweden in the social, economic, and political impact scores. 

I was somewhat surprised to read from the report, that the US has a lower percentage of households with personal computers than a number of other countries, such as Canada, Ireland, Japan, and Norway. 

The US did score the highest for institutional infrastructure, Web content, and Web use. 

Other reasons the US did not take the top spot is because of its slower Internet bandwidth speeds – which average around 47.2 megabits per second. 

The US received high scores for the quality and usefulness of government websites which provide online information and services for its citizens.

Third place in the Web Index rankings goes to the United Kingdom, which surpasses the US with its higher percentage of mobile and broadband subscriptions. 

The UK also tops the US in the category of average Internet broadband speed, with a reported 166.1 megabits per second. 

“The scale and quality of available content has been boosted by various public sector initiatives,” said the foundation’s report regarding the UK.

The UK scored 93.83 on the Foundation’s Web Index.

The ranking and scores of the remaining seven countries in the top 10 are: 

• Canada, 93.42.
• Finland, 91.88.
• Switzerland, 90.49.
• New Zealand, 89.15.
• Australia, 88.44.
• Norway, 87.76.
• Ireland, 87.42.

With regards to the Web, Berners-Lee said, “We want to take this issue about whether or not people are a part of the information society, and help increase awareness that it’s as important as access to water and vaccinations – it’s not a secondary issue.” 

In the foundation’s report, Berners-Lee talks about his vision over the long term; he hopes the Web will be used as the framework to support “true cultural transformation.” 

“The real key is to embrace other cultures, to get to know one another at the global level,” Berners-Lee said.

This quote should give us pause to reflect upon how we communicate with others around the world when in social chat rooms, or other online venues. We need to be mindful of the values and beliefs of other cultures.

The World Wide Web Foundation is located at

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Movements in the air controls computer interaction

by Mark Ollig
Soon, we may just need to wave goodbye to our computer when we turn it off.

Leap Motion, a company based in San Francisco, calls itself a “motion-control software and hardware company developing the world’s most powerful and sensitive 3D motion-control and motion-sensing technology.”

In May, I read how Microsoft was also working on a new motion-sensing device.

Microsoft Research developed a new type of controller ,which detects in-air gestures around the device using what they call the Doppler Effect. 

However, they did not say when their new in-the-air hand gesturing device would become available. 

Since 2010, Microsoft has used their Kinect system (which extrapolates motions made in the air), to interact with games when it’s connected to their Xbox 360 console. 

Earlier this year, they made Kinect available for the Windows PC.

Leap Motion’s new motion detection device is called Leap. 

Leap has a reported 200 times the sensitivity range of the Kinect. 

“This isn’t a game system that roughly maps your hand movements. The Leap technology is 200 times more accurate than anything else on the market,” stated Leap Motion’s website. 

Leap itself physically appears to be a box, about the size of a standard deck of playing cards. 

Leap can distinguish a person’s individual finger movements – tracking those movements down to
an amazing 1/100th of a millimeter. 

Bringing motion-control technology to the desktop with far greater accuracy than today’s current gesturing sensing units (and making it work for computers) is one of the reasons folks in the computing world are paying close attention to Leap. 

Installation on a computer involves plugging of one device into an open USB port, placing the Leap box in front of a computer screen, loading the Leap Motion software, and then waving your hand over the Leap box to calibrate it. 

I recently watched a demonstration video Leap Motion uploaded to YouTube at

The Leap box is sitting about five inches in front of what looks like an Apple 27-inch iMac LED computer screen.

The fast-paced video first shows a hand gliding over the top of Leap . . . I assume this gesture activates it. 

Next, I see the hand in front of a computer screen waving downwards, the display screen shows he is scrolling through the pages of a website. 

The user in the video holds up a standard wooden pencil, and proceeds to draw and write words in the air. The images, lines, and words are seen appearing on the computer screen in real-time. 

A large interactive map, like MapQuest or Google Maps, appears on the computer screen. The user navigates the map by moving his hands and fingers in circular motions and swipes. He rotates the map left, then right, and maneuvers to a specific location. He then zooms out and then zooms in on the location – accurately manipulating the map on the screen by the use of the hand and finger motions being made in the air. 

This was somewhat the same interaction one would see using an iPad (or other touch screen device), however, on the iPad, your fingers need to physically touch the screen. 

One downside of using a computer display touch screen is the accumulation of smudge prints, which usually end up making it harder to see what’s on the screen.

Next on the video, an interactive game appears. 

Bringing both hands together to make what looks like a wing or a bird the user is shown “flying” a plane in this game. His hand movements alone are controlling how the plan turns, which direction it goes, and its height. 

More games are shown being played through the interactions of the user’s hand gestures and finger swipes in the air, with the results being displayed on the computer screen.

The one-minute Leap Motion video ends with “LEAP The future is in reach.”

YouTube user SoF10 left this comment to Leap Motion about the video, saying, “I would really like to see how this works doing common tasks, specifically browsing the web and scrolling through articles, also reading pdfs and books on the Kindle app.”

Leap Motion replied, “Out-of-the-box, the Leap mimics the mouse and a touchscreen, so you would use the Leap just as you would those peripherals.”

I believe the message Leap is trying to send us is that this new device, in combination with a person’s hand and finger gestures, is accurate enough to replace your computer’s mouse, (let alone the gaming joystick) and could replace a keyboard, although I did not see any evidence of actual word processing or detailed website or online document usage being demonstrated in the video I watched.

For now, yours truly will not be abandoning his keyboard and mouse to write a column via hand gestures, or air-writing it with a pencil, or air-typing a column with his fingers.

Leap Motion has so far received more than 26,000 software developer applications from over 150 countries. 

These developers are working on some beneficial, real-life applications, such as translating sign language into text, which is viewable on a display screen.

Leap Motion can be followed on Twitter and Facebook at LeapMotion.

Their website is located at