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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Technology taken from the classroom to a C-130 Hercules

April 30, 2012
by Mark Ollig

I started writing this week’s column last Tuesday, just after I finished my evening walk.

Actually, these walks are tempting me to take up running again – I especially feel this way when I see the younger joggers smiling as they run past me.

Indeed. I fondly recall my regular jogs around Winsted Lake. I still hope to be able to do that again someday, but for right now, I realize I first need to keep up with the walking. Look out joggers; I am making a comeback.

Those of you out there who follow me on Facebook have seen the daily commentaries I post each time I finish one of my walks.

I consider them my personal victory postings.

Of course, I do enjoy walking outside in the fresh air. It gives my mind a break from all the technology I use every day. Walking outside, and observing people and nature also reminds me of years gone by, and takes me back to a time when we did not have personal computers, tablets, smart phones, web access, and online social media interactions to deal with.

We did have those annoying, beeping pagers, though.

Last Tuesday evening, I also uploaded a picture to my Facebook page showing a classroom with about 15 students. On each of the students desks was a computer.

I did not post the year the photo was taken, but the computers looked (actually they were) old.

One person posted a guess “Well, it’s before MySpace . . . so . . . 1998?”

I replied, the computers on the desks were Tandy TRS-80s (sold in Tandy’s Radio Shack stores) and the picture was taken around 1979.

The person replied, “Those computers were being used before there was even an AOL dial-up online service.”

A friend who graduated from high school the same year I did correctly commented that he thought the picture was taken after we had already graduated.

He was right. It was after we graduated when desktop computers were starting to be seen in classrooms.

Trying to salvage something tech-related during our time in high school, I replied, “Well, we did have electric typewriters.”

Surprisingly, my friend never responded back to me.

During the last 30 years, we have seen computer technology being used in most school classrooms.

Today, the computer hardware technology being used is transitioning. Schools are beginning to replace their textbooks and traditionally used computers with iPads and tablet computing devices.

Many schools are using wireless iPad technology to help with student learning.

I contacted Yvonne Selcer, a former Hopkins Public School board member and chair, to ask her opinion about schools incorporating iPads into their educational curriculum.

“Teachers are turning the iPad into powerful learning devices. School curriculum is enriched with links to relevant videos, websites, and collaborative units that engage and interest the students. Hopkins Public Schools, and schools across Minnesota, are using iPads extensively to raise achievement and increase opportunity for all,” Selcer said.

One of the other things yours truly likes about the newer model iPads being used in schools is that journalism students can use them for a variety of purposes. From recording video interviews, typing articles and taking photographs, to creating a digital multimedia video production of news, sports, entertainment, and human interest stories.

Newly created content can be wirelessly uploaded to the school’s newspaper website or social media site.

Even the US military is beginning to use iPad technology.

I recently read that the US Air Force is spending about $9 million for
18,000 Apple iPads.

Of course, with that large of an order, they are probably getting a nice discount from Apple.

It is reported the Air Force will be buying the 32GB iPad 2s with Wi-Fi.

Many of these iPad 2s are to be used in their military heavy airlift transport planes.

The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command uses transport planes such as the C-5 Galaxy, and C-130 Hercules.

The idea is to replace the costly, weighty, paper charts and publications currently being used by Air Force pilots while in flight with iPads.

It was also thought that it would be much easier keeping information up-to-date in the iPad via its wireless technology.

Being curious about using an iPad in a military transport plane at altitude, I checked the specs for the iPad 2 on Apple’s iPad 2 website specifications page, located at

I was very surprised when I read Apple’s Environmental Requirements for an iPad 2; “Maximum operating altitude;10,000 feet (3000 m).”

The Air Force’s C-130J Super Hercules aircraft has a maximum ceiling of 28,000 feet with a 42,000-pound payload.

One can only assume – before signing the $9 million check to Apple – the good folks at the US Air Force did a few practice iPad airborne run-throughs.

With that said, I think it might be a good time for me to take another walk.
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, April 19, 2012

Technology, content creators meet at NAB

April 23, 2012
by Mark Ollig

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual convention took place last week in the Las Vegas convention center.

The NAB calls itself “the premier advocacy association for America’s broadcasters.”

NAB has been around for a long time. It was founded in 1922.

The Great Content Shift: Defining Your Evolution was this year’s NAB show theme.

The show was attended by digital media equipment suppliers, mainstream broadcast professionals, entrepreneurs active in Internet social media, entertainers, and those who create the digital content we consume.

This year’s show brought together the technology-makers with the content-creators.

Both are working to provide solutions for each other, which will deliver a better content consumption experience for all of us, who are, after all, the consumers of the content.

It was estimated that more than 1,500 exhibitors participated in this year’s NAB show.

Video was a hot topic; its management, and the new methods of delivering its content across all broadcast mediums.

As you know, once the doors to the Internet were fully opened, it caused tremendous amounts of data to be collected – more than ever before in history.

Being there is so much content on the Internet to digest; the need in having it assembled in some sort of organized context becomes crucial.

When this accumulation of content is sorted and put into context, it creates structured information – content we can use and learn from.

The NAB convention included mini-sessions consisting of various media groups who talked about how content is generated, managed, and delivered.

Some of the content discussed included news, weather, sports, entertainment, education, and business and social media.

They discussed the increasing number of people who today are using a wide assortment of computing devices to create, access, and consume content from a variety of Internet sources.

This year’s NAB show also covered the convergence of business and consumer social media platforms that produce video content for delivery over the Internet.

Of course, we have been consumers of content for years, whether watching it over television, in a movie theater, or listening to it on a record, a radio, or reading it in newsprint.

Today, there is a dynamic shift taking place in the technologies we use for consuming information.

This shift is using the Internet as the broadcast medium, and a variety of computing devices for its content consumption.

We are consuming content using new technology: smartphones, tablets, e-book readers, and other computing devices, such as iPads and iPods.

Indeed, people are consuming content using newer methods; in fact, many of us have already transitioned from previous methods of content consumption.

Today, we have come to expect instant access to our content, whether it is news, sports, entertainment, or our social media sites – from wherever we are located – simply by downloading an app onto our iPhone, or other mobile computing device.

The NAB session meeting titled The Great Content Shift was moderated by Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto.

Gorbis talked about how the “content landscape” has changed since it was more-or -less owned by the big three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC).

With the arrival of the Web and smart mobile computing devices, “hardly any aspect of broadcasting has not been transformed,” Gorbis said.

“It is hard to say what the [today’s media] industry exactly is; who is in and who is out. The broadcasting ecology has exploded,” Gorbis said. “It includes individuals, tech companies, traditional broadcasters, new analytics, and software companies and social networking platforms.”

She also talked about non-human content creators.

Gorbis explained content in the future no longer needs to be created just by humans, saying “We will see bots, systems, and platforms that tweet, tell stories, and write music.” Our devices and tools will be able to understand our context, allowing them to create content uniquely tailored to individual needs.”

This year, more than 90,000 attended the NAB show.

Larger attendances were seen in the late 1990s, during the explosion of the Internet dotcom companies.

“At that time, [late 1990s] there were about 200 to 250 companies that were specifically dotcom related, and probably 15 of them are still around,” said Chris Brown, NAB executive vice president for conventions and business operations.

Today, we are seeing a whole new generation of content creators. Anyone with a smartphone can shoot a quality video and upload it to a web or social media site and have it seen by millions of people.

Bill Boss, vice-president of Media Solutions at Weather Central, is a weather webcaster who attended the NAB show.

He described Weather Central as a personalized weather content creation service that television stations, cable and telephone companies, and even individuals can sign up for to receive hourly, updated, personalized weather forecasts.

Imagine having a Bits & Bytes weather channel . . . I just might check into that.

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The next 'Fantastic Voyage' will send Cyberplasm

April 16, 2012
by Mark Ollig

A submarine called Proteus and its special crew are miniaturized to microscopic size and injected into the bloodstream of a critically ill science diplomat in an attempt to remove a blood clot from his brain and save his life.

My brief synopsis describes the 1966 science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage.”

Today, however, some very interesting real-life science research is being funded by the UK and US.

By 2017, instead of a microscopic submarine and crew, a “micro-robot” may be used to maneuver within a human body . . . in a new “fantastic voyage.”

This micro-robot would be able to check for tumors, blood clots, and recognize the chemical signatures of certain diseases.

Made up of electronic and certain biological parts, this micro-robot is called Cyberplasm.

Cyberplasm will use a combination of cutting-edge microelectronics, and the latest in “biomimicry,” which emulates designs used in nature.

I visited the website, It describes biomimicry as the study of how organisms and nature have evolved and adapted to their respective environments over the last 3.8 billion years.

The idea behind biomimicry is to learn about the solutions to problems nature has solved over time and then apply or “mimic” those solutions, creatively, for the benefit of all humankind.

Biomimicry is the application of nature’s learned technology.

The knowledge learned from biomimicry is being used by many Fortune 500 companies, and even NASA.

Designers and engineers are employing the benefits of biomimicry for use in projects ranging from creating new types of carpets, to customized planning specifications for a city.

Biomimicry will assist in the making of a more efficient and sustainable world for all of us to live in.

Tiny mammalian cells (isolated mammal cells bounded by a plasma membrane) will be used by the researchers to create an “electronic nervous system” of sorts, within the Cyberplasm.

This electronic nervous system will include working sensors which will emulate an eye and nose.

“Nothing matches a living creature’s natural ability to see and smell its environment and therefore, to collect data on what’s going on around it,” said bioengineer Dr. Daniel Frankel of Newcastle University, who is heading the UK portion of this research.

Artificial muscles in the Cyberplasm will cause it to operate in a forward moving manner by using energy obtained from the glucose inside a human’s bloodstream.

Sensors inside the Cyberplasm’s electronic “brain” will be equipped with intelligent microchips. This brain will send messages to the artificial muscles, causing them to contract and relax, allowing the Cyberplasm to maneuver.

The engineering to be used to navigate the Cyberplasm forward inside a human body includes having the glucose-powered, artificial muscles responding to light and chemical stimuli, the way other biological systems do.

It seems like the scientists and engineers are trying to imitate a living creature.

This is true. They are attempting to mimic the sea lamprey, which is a worm-like parasite found living mostly in the Atlantic Ocean along the western coast of Europe, and the eastern coast of North America.

A sea lamprey has a simple nervous system. It is very aware of, and is quick to respond to, the environment it lives in.

Researchers would like to first create a 1-centimeter in length, prototype Cyberplasm micro-robot.

A much smaller, nano-scale- sized Cyberplasm micro-robot would be built sometime after this.

A working Cyberplasm is not something we will have to wait too long to see.

“We’re currently developing and testing Cyberplasm’s individual components,” said Dr. Frankel. He went on to say, “We hope to get to the assembly stage within a couple of years. We believe Cyberplasm could start being used in real-world situations within five years.”

A photo of the Cyberplasm micro-robot design shows a thin, cylinder-like hydrogel/polymer backbone, with attached synthetic muscles, electronic nervous system, and synthetic motors.

Dr. Frankel’s personal website describes this cell/machine interface as “a swimming biohybrid robot.” The website information states they are in the process of developing methods for encouraging cells to communicate with the electronics.

It is not said how this micro-robot would be placed inside a human body, but if we refer back to the movie “Fantastic Voyage,” Cyberplasm would probably be injected into the bloodstream.

While entertaining this thought, I am not so sure how comfortable I would be in having a micro-robot called Cyberplasm, traversing throughout the interior of my body.

What if this Cyberplasm’s brain chip malfunctioned and it changed course towards my cerebrum in an attempt to take control of me?

Suddenly, I find myself thinking about a Star Trek movie where humans are assimilated and turned into Borg’s.

Of course, being assimilated by Cyberplasm is highly unlikely; however, experiencing this situation would no doubt provide yours truly with some interesting material for future columns.

On a serious note, it is said the Cyberplasm research may lead to the use of advanced prosthetic technologies. Living muscle tissue could be engineered to contract and relax as a response to light wave stimulation or electronic signals.

Research funding for the micro-robotic Cyberplasm technology is being provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the UK, and the National Science Foundation in the US.

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, April 5, 2012

New tablets and a 1994 video prediction

April 9, 2012
by Mark Ollig

Apple currently owns the tablet computing market with its iPad; however, new tablet choices are appearing on the horizon.

Yours truly was looking at a few of these soon-to-be-released tablets.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Android tablet comes with a 10.1-inch 1,280-by-800 display screen, and makes use of a pressure-sensitive stylus pen, or S-pen. It operates using a 1.4GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos processor.

This tablet includes a 2-megapixel front-facing and a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera, has built-in Wi-Fi, and comes in a 16, 32, or 64GB model.

Official pricing has not been released on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.

Acer is promising 12 hours of video playback on their new Iconia A510 Android 4.0 tablet.

This tablet uses a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, and has a 10.1-inch 1,280-by-800 High-Definition (HD) display screen. It includes 1GB of RAM, and 32GB worth of storage space.

The A510 includes a 5-megapixel rear camera with autofocus and a 1-megapixel front facing camera. It comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and will be shipped with the Android 4.0 operating system.

Adobe Flash 11 is pre-installed, and the A510 supports a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), allowing it to be connected to a Video Graphics Array (VGA) projector input for those important meeting presentations.

The price for the Acer A510 Android 4.0 tablet is said to be about $450.

Asus announced a new tablet called the Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF700T.

The TF700T has a 10.1-inch tablet screen, with a pixel resolution of 1,920-by-1,200.

The new Asus TF700T is expected to be priced at around $600, and $700 for its 32GB and 64GB models, respectively.

Additional computing tablet choices will soon be available for those of you out there who did not jump on the new iPad bandwagon.

There have always been questions concerning where the idea for a tablet computing device originated from.

As many of you know, Apple’s first iPad tablet was available in 2010, however, there is a bit of controversy about who originally came up with the concept for an electronic computing tablet.

I discovered a few 40-year-old diagrams of an electronic device which strongly resembles today’s computing tablet.

This futuristic computing tablet was envisioned by Alan C. Kay. He called it the DynaBook.

In 1972, while at the Xerox Palo Alto research center, Kay completed a well-written description of the DynaBook. He even attempted to explain how to build one using electronic components and software technology available at the time.

Kay envisioned the DynaBook being used as an educational tool for children.

He explained how the DynaBook’s keyboard should be “as thin as possible . . . it may have no moving parts at all – but be sensitive to pressure. . .”

“Once one has gotten used to the idea of no moving parts, he is ready for the idea of no keyboard at all,” Kay said in his 1972 eleven-page document.

It sounds like he was describing today’s tablet touch-screen.

Kay’s document is called, “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages.” You can read it and see diagrams of the DynaBook using this link:

In 1994, Roger Fidler, who was director of new media for Knight-Ridder Inc., created a video called “The Tablet Newspaper: A Vision for the Future.”

This video demonstrated specific instances of how a person could read, interact, and share the news and information from this portable, electronic “tablet newspaper device.”

The prototype tablet model being used in the 1994 video showed a rectangular, 3⁄4-inch-thick, black-bordered case (about the size of a magazine), with a large flat-screen and no physical keyboard. It looked very much like today’s Apple iPad.

In the video, the narrator describes the futuristic tablet by saying, “Tablets will be a whole new class of computers. They will weigh under 2pounds. They will be totally portable. They will have a clarity of screen display comparable to ink on paper. They will be able to blend text, video, audio, and graphics together, and they will be part of our daily lives around the turn of the century.”

“We may still use computers to create information, but we will use the tablet to interact with information,” predicted the narrator in the 1994 video.

There was no mention of the Internet in the video.

In 1994, there was no Wi-Fi, and using a web-browser type of graphical user interface when accessing information from the Internet was still in its infancy. The Mosaic graphical user interface had just come on the scene in 1993.

The narrator was very precise in describing the tablet’s features, and a person in the video demonstrated (in detail) how to use the 1994 prototype.

Fidler’s 1994 video was uploaded to YouTube in May 2007.

Apple released the iPad in April 2010.

The controversy of whether Apple got the idea for its iPad from Roger Fidler’s prototype tablet continues to this day.

Judge for yourself. Watch the 1994 video of Fidler’s futuristic, computerized newspaper tablet 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